Salt of the South
Wednesday, May 27th, 2009
The Royal Family has recognized the great importance education, art and culture has for the country and its citizens. Princess Sumaya Bint El-Hassan, daughter of Prince El-Hassan Bin Talal and President of the Princess Sumaya University of Technology, is regularly present when a book exhibit opens or some other cultural event takes place, and Princess Wijdan Ali, university professor, expert on Islamic art, author, and Jordan’s ambassador to Rome, is President of the Royal Art Society, and the excellent art museum. Bringing the world together on the level of interdisciplinary subjects and respect for human dignity through respect for culture are Prince Hassan’s principles. “We don’t let the Fundamentalists spoil our joy for life, art and culture and very deliberately use every opportunity to display our cultural heritage through book exhibits, paintings, film, and folklore.”
The capital Amman and the Roman city of Jerash nearby are bastions of cultural events, which in recent years have been joined by the square in front of the Treasury. Whether it be folklore dance by the group Ramtha with costumes from Ramtha in the north of Jordan and the performance of Dabke (wedding dance) in the inner courtyard of the architecturally engaging City Hall (next to the new Jordan Museum being built with Japanese aid), Arabic music in front of the backdrop of the Roman Amphitheater, the annual Jerash Festival with many events on the stage of the ancient South Theater, the worthwhile exhibits in the art museum or contemporary art in numerous galleries that reflect the history of Amman’s buildings … if you are a fan of art and culture, you have the agony of choice.
Art and Diplomacy: Princess Wijdan Ali
The art museum was expanded by a second building set opposite that contains a permanent exhibition of contemporary Jordanian artists – including many works by the Princess. In the original building there is a changing exhibition of artists from all over the world. “The Spanish royal couple came for the opening of an exhibit of a famous Spanish artist,” says Princess Wijdan Ali in her office in the museum. She is the president of the museum, professor of art at the university, guest professor at numerous universities abroad, and an expert on Islamic art, culture and philosophy.
“When my work as research director and vice president of the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy ended, I founded the College of Arts and Design in December 2001 and occupied the position of dean. My goal was to build up a college that did without as much bureaucracy and as few hurdles for the students as possible.” Admission to the college is possible with a high school diploma; in addition, the students have to present their own art work done during the last two years, and pass a test and a personal interview. Artists and sculptors are able to fully develop themselves artistically. A committee of five to seven experts examines the work, and the degree is mainly orientated on the quality of the artistic work – it corresponds to a Ph.D. The system functions so well that the College of Architecture has adopted it. ”I am really proud to have overcome the bureaucracy. Only the work counts with us. The first class graduated in June 2006. 65 students, who had studied music, theater, video art, painting, sculpture, graphic arts and pottery, earned their degrees and naturally there have been many more since then.”
When asked about her artistic development, she responds, “My style has developed in the direction of calligraphy in recent years. And I am being more and more influence by Sufism. It is the tolerance in Sufism that interests me. I am finding myself more interested in poetry and I am reminded of the story of when, in pre-Islam times, the people would gather once a year at the Kaaba and hang the seven best poems on the wall of the Kaaba on long strips of paper. That inspired me to my ‘hanging papers’ as an installation. An example is hanging in the museum.” Along with her involvement in art, a diplomatic career is playing a role. She was the first woman in the Foreign Ministry and the youngest diplomat and, since October 2006, she has occupied the post of Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Rome.
Art Galleries in Amman
Art galleries are springing up like mushrooms. Vernissages have been media events for years that even the English-language daily newspaper, the “Jordan Times,” regularly report about in full. Some of the excellent galleries are Dar Al-Anda and Makan, Amman’s oldest, largest and best-known gallery, and the Khalid Shoman Foundation – Darat Al Funun, in a spectacular location on a cliff, housed in three buildings from the 1920s on the site of the archaeological remains of a 6th century Byzantine church with a breathtaking view across ancient Amman.
Suha Shoman, wife of the deceased founder, who made a name for herself with video art, is drawn to Petra. “I want to withdraw to Petra and regain my strength there,” says the artist in front of a portrait of the founder, a famous banker. When asked about one of the interesting exhibits in the house, she comments, “That was Discoveries in Beidha, Scrolls of Petra and Safaitic Stones” with sculptures, stones with Nabataean engravings and a few famous, charred but legible, papyrus rolls that were discovered by American archaeologists in the 90s in the Byzantine church with the mosaics in Petra. The discovery consists of a total of 152 papyri, dated from 528 to about 578 A.D. The papyri contain information about social and economic live in the Nabataean city. “The discovery was a sensation because it had been accepted until then that there had never been a Byzantine Petra.” Hakim Jamain’s graphic arts can be seen in the area of painting exhibits, under the title “Salt of the South.” “Petra is my love,” says the Jordanian artist about the Nabataean city. “When I am in Petra and paint there, I discover new methods and when contemplating the rocks, new ideas come to me. I sit down in outdoors and listen to the birds, let the peace and quiet sink in and paint in the style of Art Symbolism that I see everywhere in Petra – on the rocks, in the sand and when a Bedouin rides on a camel.”
Finally, the Orfali Art Center’s painting gallery in the district of Sweifiyya is to be strongly recommended. A special feature is a permanent exhibit especially dedicated to Iraqi artists by the gallery owner, Inaam Al Orfali, a cousin of the internationally-known Iraqi painter, Malerin Widad Al Orfali, who lives today in Amman.
Widad Kawar and her Collection
For forty years, Widad Kawar, who comes from Palestine, has been collecting clothing, jewelry, and accessories from Palestine, Jordan and Syria. The collection is constantly growing, is of inestimable worth and has been exhibited in many museums worldwide; most recently in the summer of 2008 in Lindau, made possible through the efforts of the German-Jordanian Society. Every item reflects details from the history, geography and culture of the afore mentioned countries.
In collaboration with Layla Pio, an Iraqi expert in ancient, oriental textiles, Widad Kawar occasionally organizes an always popular presentation at the University of Amman that contentswise begins at 5,500 B.C., with a focus on Iraq and Bilad Al-Sham. The accompanying lectures show how social and economic factors affected the clothing, style and needlework (embroidery). Women students wear the costly historical garments and the female speakers explain the details on the “living subject.” Thus one learns, for example, why the typical dress (Madrga) from Salt, Jordan’s former capital, had exceptionally long sleeves and the equally exceptionally long gown needed therefore to be deftly draped with the aid of a special belt (shweheye); it was possible to hide valuable objects in it from the greedy tax officials in Ottoman times. Wearing the historical costumes is also a special kind of experience for the students. “I never thought that a Kurdish head-dress was so heavy,” says the wearer. “The exhibits of my collection in Cologne (Rautenstrauch Museum), Berlin, Bamberg and Munich (ethnological museum) in the 1980s and the accompanying program organized parallel to them led to an increase in tourists from Germany coming to Jordan back then,” declares Widad Kawar. “I used to collect just beautiful pieces, but today I collect everything – they all are simply part of it. The Japanese are very interested in my collection – they would like to buy it in toto, but I do not want to let it out of my country.”
Von Barbara Schumacher