Last week, I visited Amman’s National Gallery of Fine Arts. The beautiful gallery complex includes three buildings separated by a sculpture park. I took an uber to get there and walked home.
I’m still figuring out the best way to get around Amman – other than uber. There’s no public transportation, except for limited buses. Automobiles are clearly the preferred means of human transport. I’ve seen zero bicycles, a few motorcycles, and only a handful of people on foot. Walking in some areas is challenging, because of heavy traffic, uneven pavement, few streetlights, and limited sidewalks and walkways. Most streets have curbs with one- to two-foot drop-offs, so you have to be careful. It’s unwise to mindlessly meander the streets of Amman.
Getting around Amman on foot inevitably involves scaling a series of hills and stairways. Street crossings can be nerve-wracking and almost seem like playing a game of “chicken”. It reminds me of Hanoi – except the traffic onslaught is autos, instead of motorcycles. Gridlock is especially wild between 2 and 4 p.m., when children get out of school. After my accident in Egypt, I’m not as bold and feel a bit skittish when trying to cross a busy, “pedestrian-unfriendly” street.
“There is little or no walking space in Amman, so people and cars blend dangerously together. Pavements either do not exist or are very narrow, dangerously uneven, or used as parking spaces for nearby residents’ cars as well as being riddled with all kinds of obstruction and hazards.” Hasan Abu Nimah Jordan Times
The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts is a “major Middle Eastern art museum“. The gallery’s Permanent Collection includes “over 3,000 works with drawings, paintings, sculptures, ceramics, video art, three-dimensional installations, graphic art, and photography by artists from the Islamic and Developing Worlds – Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and Latin America”.
The unique permanent collection of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts “carries you from continent to continent and country to country, making it an important worldwide reference in art”.
The National Gallery was founded by the Royal Society of Fine Arts in 1980. It’s the “first of its kind with a unique collection of modern artworks by contemporary artists”. The Royal Society is a non-profit organization established in 1979 to “promote cultural diversity, disseminate artistic knowledge, and promote contemporary art“. The focus is on Islamic art and creative works in Developing Worlds.
Sculpture Park and Buildings
The sculpture park dividing the gallery’s buildings has a playground, open-air stage, Japanese garden, Andalusian fountain, and café. The beautiful park is considered a “model garden for water conservation“. In 2016, it won a Green World Organization award for environmental best practice.
Building 1 is dedicated to the gallery’s private art collection and visiting and local art exhibitions. Building 2 houses the permanent art collection, with a library, gift shop, and café, Building 3 is the home of resident artists, special creative workshops, and a graphic studio with a state-of-the-art printing press.
Currently, the Gallery is featuring:
- Lebanese Artist Samir Sayegh Solo Exhibition
- Group Exhibition of Lebanese Artists from the gallery’s art collection
- [Digital] Transmissions Video Art and Installations commissioned by the British Council in Jordan
All of the artists on display in the gallery were new to me, so I learned a lot. Galleries can be a bit overwhelming, because they exhibit a huge amount of information about a country’s culture and people. Favorites include Lebanese artists Hussein Madi and Charles Khoury, Armenian Paul Guiragossian, Palestinian Laila Shawa, and Syrian Fateh Moudarres.
Samir Sayegh Solo Exhibition
“Under the patronage of HRH Princess Ghida Talal, the Gallery organized a solo exhibition for Lebanese artist Samir Sayegh.” The exhibition is in collaboration with the Jordanian Lebanese Association, showcasing Lebanese art from the National Gallery’s Permanent Collection.
“In the tradition of the great Sufi masters, Sayegh creates abstract Arabic letters, emphasizing fine lines and thick lines, beginnings and ends, coming together, individual existence, stopping on the part to embrace the whole.” plan-bey.com
Samir Sayegh is a “pioneer of modernism in the Arab world“. He’s the author of several books on Sufi poetry and Islamic art. Driven by his interest in the “formal power of letters,” Sayegh sought to “liberate calligraphy from language and meaning“. He focuses on the “aesthetic properties of the written word, in an effort to create a universal visual language“.
Samir Sayegh “concentrates on freeing calligraphy from the constraints of language”
Sayegh has developed a distinctive practice by uniting ornamentation with a calligraphic script. He uses the “formal elements of line and space, to abstract Arabic letters and words into dynamic geometric compositions“. Visually engaged with the modern art movement geometric minimalism, Sayegh’s works bridge calligraphy and modern art to “forge a unique contribution to the history of modernism“.
“Sayegh’s art, although based on individual letters or words, has little to do with language or meaning. It’s purely aesthetic. During his career, he’s stylized both the geometric and free-flowing variations of Arabic calligraphy, creating a universally appreciable practice based on form and beauty.”
Lebanese Artists Group Exhibition
The group exhibition showcases artworks by pioneer Lebanese artists: Paul Guiragossian, Afaf Zurayk, Etel Adnan, Wajih Nahleh, Amine Elbacha, Hussein Madi, Saliba Douaihy, Sami Makarem, Rafiq Sharaf, Annie Kurkdjian, Aref Rayes, Chafic Abboud, Chaouki Chaoukini, Fadia Ahmad, Ghada Jamal, Charles Khoury, Emmanuel Guiragossian, Hassan Jouni, Hrair Sarkissian, Helen Khal, Juliana Seraphime, May Abboud, Nizar Daher, Asaad Arabi, and Simone Fattal.
Many of these talented artists have been affected by tragedies that afflicted the regions where they live. This is reflected in their artistic creations.
[Digital] Transmissions Exhibition
[Digital] Transmissions is a group exhibition resulting from an “artistic development programme and creative exchange between Jordan and the UK”. The two countries united in the exchange to “learn and experiment with digital tools”. It’s difficult to share these interactive exhibits as photos. They must be experienced in person. The works “examine how technology shapes our cities and public sphere and enables interactions with non-human worlds and the environment“.
The topics and artistic explorations featured in the [Digital] Transmissions Exhibition include “questions related to humanness, intimacy, and spirituality”.
[Digital] Transmissions was commissioned by the British Council in Jordan and co-developed by FutureEverything and the Gallery of Fine Arts. The project received “technical support from TechWorks, a Crown Prince Foundation Initiative“.
Participating artists include: Asiya Alsheshani, Aya Abu Ghazaleh, Diana Habashneh, Dima Mosleh, Haneen Jaafreh, Hescham AlKarshan, Laila Eltaweel, Lina Q. Asaad, Lubna Almousa, Mohammad Shehadeh, SalahEddin AlQawasmi, Zaid Abueisa, and mentors Alex May, Hashem Joucka, and Kasia Molga.
It was a great day in Amman, exploring the gallery’s treasures and fascinating park.