By Ica Wahbeh
"This is a dialogue between artists themselves; it's a humanitarian and cultural dialogue that we are in desperate need of now, after all the distortion inflicted upon us and our identity by some extremists who are far removed from our civilisation and our culture of tolerance, which is always open to the other."
Thus does Director General of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts Khalid Khreis introduce the exhibition "Together", which showcases the works of 26 artists from 12 countries, a diverse universe of artistic expression that proves the universal value of art.
Or, as art consultant and curator Eva Mueller who organised and coordinated the exhibition puts it, "art can create new means of understanding between cultures, traditions and nations. With the current world situation, what we need most is more thinking and acting 'Together'. It is important to acknowledge diversity of thought and equally important to recognise similarities with the aim of broadening horizons and opening our minds to new possibilities in the world".
The works on display - paintings, photographs, sculptures, installations - do indeed open up horizons, constantly stimulate senses and are incredibly similar most times, reinforcing the belief that human race, from the cave drawings on, yearned to convey its feelings and knew how to do it in only so many ways.
French Brigitte Bauer's "Fragments d'intimité" captures Egyptian couples sitting on benches, backs turned to the camera, contemplating the view in front of them. "Baubles of privacy amongst all the excitement of the city," says the artist, whose postures tell a story.
"There they are, leaning towards each other, slightly or hardly at all. They look at each other, or they look at the sea or at nothing at all, turning their backs to the world…. An apparent paradox: the choice of public places for seeking an intimacy that the privacy of the family does not allow. Private attitudes in public places. Fragments of privacy."
Qatari Khalifa Al Obaidi's "Male and female" offers an interesting balance to the idea of couples with his photo capturing a pair of "nails" of strange appeal and shape, one sinuously curved, with the allure of a woman that beckons, the other straight, aloof, expectant. It is the belief of this artist that "non-living subjects can express togetherness in a very harmonious and romantic way; they have feeling and spirit and somehow tell us how they can live together as well".
On the first floor of the gallery, the variety of works is such that it constantly stirs the viewer.
Abstracts by Jordanian Adnan Al Sharif - colourful acrylics on canvas that he paints "to the rhythm of the music, which comes into harmony with the melody of my inner emotions, constructing spontaneous colours in abstract compositions, reflecting personal ambiance of outer beauty" - and David Flynn (US) - big "pigments, wax and dammar varnish on plywood", impressive both through their size and their minimal images which, with a few strokes create entire seasons - are in the company of Jordanian Omar Bilbeisi's abstract calligraphy -thick, black letters magnified in two paintings to be rendered into mere "Curves".
The strong red, green, ochre, ivory blocks of colour in this artist's works contrast each other, form separate entities delineated by the black of the letters, look like puzzle pieces inviting to the game.
German Elisabeth Mehri offers floral and geometrical patterns that look like digitalised images or like textiles, and are of a stimulating visual effect by their mere juxtaposition.
Swiss Micha Haechler's blown up photos of colourful flowers - wide open, showing sepals and pistils - form a lovely grouping, perfectly matched by Jordanian Dodi Tabbaa's ink-looking photos, again of flowers but also of stones inscribed with beautiful calligraphy. Her flowers seem to belong to the aquatic life, their images lingering on the retina, unveiling yet another skill of this talented artist.
Beatriz von Eidlitz, from Argentina, presents a stunning group of orange-red pigment and oxides on steel, mounted on wood. Lined-up cubes give the name "Hold the line" to a series, while "Lava", a vibrant grouping of six horizontal wooden slats conveys, other than the obvious name, the calming image of her country's Indian woven craft, of amazing effect.
Another Mehri work, a big painting of colourful glass beads forming an attractive necklace, sets the colour tone for the set of sportsmen (Nadal and Zidane, among them) painted on wood by Michael Dillmann of Germany and for Roland Schoen's (also German) abstract oils on canvas, monumental paintings entirely different in colour, texture and depth.
Their compatriot, Stefan Moritz Becker, paints "Munich lights" a set of three works that look like meteorite rain, are city lights blurred by raindrop reflections, layers of light and colour that assume the depth of well worn-out silk carpets. They are contrasted by the distinctive stripes of the playful paintings by Jordanian Sheeren Audi who "adores the reckless creativity of abstract art, and the fact that abstract pieces are the most open to interpretation".
Zena Al Khalil (Lebanon) has a colourful installation, "More light than death cold bear", that clearly hints at destruction in Lebanon; this is however overcome by light and hope, represented by twinkling lights and tinsel foil superimposed on flowers, photos, lace, beads, with a kuffiyeh in the background, all conceived in the shape of a "Celtic cross which combines two powerful symbols: the circle, suggesting infinity of the eternal, and the cross, suggesting the world of physical forms. This basic creative form depicts the feminine principle in the circle and masculine in the cross; together they converge to establish creation".
Austrian Elisabeth von Samsonow's two colourful sculptures are of the "Hearth of the earth", a red heart with veins coiling around it in a DNA-like double helix, pulsating with life, and of "Mama/Mother" - a massive wooden piece with voluminous curves (symbol of fertility).
Taking biologist Nicholas Tinbergen's belief that "the most important attraction-inciting scheme is that of the mother", the artist "created a 'Mother' figure made up of very attractive shapes: eyes reminiscent of wrapped bonbons and breasts promising food". The shadow accompanying it, projected on the floor in the form of black velvet, is an ingenious concept full of symbolism.
"The shadows which I sew for my sculptures are meant to enhance the perception of them as bodies…. In this way the shadow represents the pictorial and the sculpture stands for embodiment."
Margot Luf (Germany), whose "Being II" meets the visitor at the entrance, a svelte bronze of ethereal beauty, is present on this floor with a few bronze sculptures painted cobalt blue -five dainty, stylised silhouettes called "Bozettos", an abstract "Variation", part blue part bronze, and a brightly coloured "Sculpture for a fountain".
Playful and endearing, her sculptures seem precarious, making one forget that they are solid bronze.
"Painting single shapes out of the configuration, she reduces the three-dimensional impression and enhances the feeling of colour. This allows a flowing transition from two-dimensional painted surfaces to painted volumes," writes art critic Christine Hamel.
German Dorothea Reese-Helm's Plexiglas stands out through its shape and concept. Called "The middle of the moment", her two-piece sculpture is original, ingenious, attractive. Her installation, "Refractions" is modern, almost psychedelic. She enters a new element into her work, light, which "expands the spectrum from the inside out".
Dramatic and fascinating, the installation is diaphanous, translucent, highly ornamental; the material used assumes different dimensions by having "black light" shone on it. "By poeticising them in artwork, their own aesthetic value is disclosed. An imaginary, circling line in the shape of a trace of light creates a contrast between the inside and outside, between linear and multidimensional moments, between a draft and a detailed structural design," says the artist.
On the second floor, Luf has more bronzes: a stylised "Torso", a "Rider" - strange creature of amorphous form that looks like unearthed primitive clay art - another "Sculpture for a fountain" and a most exotic "Pair of birds".
Palestinian Rana Bishara's installation, "Who buys the roadmap for peace in Palestine", of dry cactus fibre and black thread, is symbolic. Tattered pieces loosely sewn, held together by the black strand can only suggest the pieces of territory Palestinians can aspire at ever obtaining. OCHA (UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) maps cover a nearby wall, showing closures and access in West Bank, Gaza, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Jericho, Hebron, Salfit, purplish spots of misery of humiliation.
German Sabine Pfaff's and Obaidi's photos capture everyday life images, coloured and artistic.
Konrad Schmid, also from Germany, paints exquisitely minimal imagery on Japanese paper and on wood circles set like stepping stones on the floor. His compatriot Ute Lechner's aluminium bronze shining figures and spheres are uplifting. Inea Gukema-Augstein's (again German) wall sculptures are resin, aluminium and brass circles, "unformed, vivid, moveable… objects that lead us to a spherical idea, pictures of the evolution, illustration of existence and matter".
Petra Gerschner's (Germany) photography portrays a woman wearing different headdresses, or nothing, "challenges her audience to reassess their presupposed attitudes towards certain roles and symbols of identity". The woman is the same, "only we see her very differently and consequently we will react to her differently, according to our prejudices and judgements", says Mueller.
Reem Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia) captures beautiful black and white images of the "Port of Jeddah wharf at night", of "Aya Sophia icons and calligraphy" and of "Muslims in America, Pensylvania". In her photos, lights shine brightly to outline the contours of the object of her lens.
Smaller black and white interior photos by Johanna Aigner of Spain seem to be her relatives'; details are caught with great eye, are rich and enchanting. A modern installation by her, rotating figures pointing towards planes in flight, mounted on blue barrels painted with the world map all around, suggests travel, migration, coming together and parting, "social constructs which shape our thoughts and our behaviour".
The highly stimulating exhibition can be viewed until December 30.