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Generation to generation

By Ica Wahbeh - Feb 10,2013 - Last updated at Feb 10,2013

AMMAN — Deep earthen colours that hold the promise of a bountiful autumn warm up the cold winter days at Gallery 14 where an unexpected, if delightfully so, combination of carpets, paintings, prints, photographs and ceramics is displayed in a harmonious whole.

The unifying thread is tradition; more precisely, that inspired by bedouin carpets whose appealing colours and designs were to set the tone for the entire exhibition organised by gallery owner and artist Hind Nasser.

Wishing to build on heritage but transcend the old and move into the present, modern times, Nasser approached young artists asking them “to be inspired” and contribute to the exhibition.

“They often complain that galleries do not take young artists”, yet “none responded, none even came to see” the outcome. Which is a pity, indeed, because it is an original, uplifting display of ancient skill and modern takes on it, proof that collective memory is passed from generation to generation and stays ingrained, ready to surface under the right circumstances.

The bedouin carpets on display — some as old as 120 years — belong to well-known collector Widad Kawar. Their location is “rather impossible to trace… due to the intermarriages between the tribes and their continuous movement from one place to another”. Whatever their origin, they are testimony to the skill and rich heritage common to this and most of the Mediterranean basin area.

Using them as a basis for the works on display was also in acknowledgement of Madaba, the cultural capital of Jordan this year, as one of the major centres of bedouin carpet production.

“Different inspirations and different dreams” may well be the title of the exhibition, but the real inspiration were these amazing carpets whose deep, rich, maroon, vibrant red, ochre, orange, beige, black, white and the occasional blue and green hues enchant the eye.

Their patterns, mostly geometrical figures but also a stylised rendition of human silhouettes, colours, display, the fringes, tassels and variety of thread — sheep, goat, camel wool and, at times, cotton — talk about skilled mastery, imagination and creativity.

If, initially, “the weavers arranged and rearranged the traditional geometrical shapes to suit their designs, thinking about symbolic or totemic meanings, gradually these meanings were lost...” and the resourcefulness of the weaver gave each piece its individuality.

One moves in reverence around these carpets, for although they are made for practical purposes, their age, the amount of work involved, the originality of patterns and colours, and the knowledge that carpet making might be a dying craft — what with technology and ease of production — make them all the more valuable and worthy of appreciation.

Interspersed with these precious handicrafts, and beautifully complementing them, are works by contemporary artists, inspired by tradition and theme, and as imaginative and arresting as the carpets.

Nasser’s collages are abstract tapestries of paint, fragments of carpets, camel caravans, Fatima’s hand, warm, rich tints that match those of the carpets but have a modern feel to them. They hold the gaze, inviting it to discover the myriad details, the hidden images or symbols.

A painting of hers, woven by Bani Hamida women into a carpet in some sort of work in reverse, proves that art and craftsmanship stem from the same fount of originality, heritage and ancestral memory.

Jalal Ariqat’s recycling work is taken to a new level. His tin on plywood could very well have been “woven” like a carpet.

The colours and patterns resemble those of carpets; the images are reminiscent of old, rust-colour, battered rugs. And to think he did not even see the rugs before creating his works! Talk about inherited consciousness…

Oqba Faraj is a photographer with “an eye”. He does not just take snapshots. He takes time to arrange the objects of his shots, to add a pertinent detail, to highlight an element of interest, and then he snaps the shutter open.

His pictures of carpets — draped over a wooden bench, spread on the ground, alone or overlapping, in their entirety or focusing on a detail — are imaginative, colourful, beautiful to watch.

Abdel Rahim Arajan’s artistic images are of headbands with coins. They are oversized, interestingly contrasting Mohammad Ammar’s “print on burlap” representations, small squares on which one element in a carpet is captured and made into an enlarged image that reveals the weaving pattern, highlights the geometrical shape and forms an artistic tableau in itself.

Abstract and very modern, Hazem Al Zoubi’s ceramics deconstruct the ordered patterns into irregular geometrical shapes — spirals, strange script, twisting lines — in pale colours. His works are a true artist’s licence to reproduce reality but make it barely recognisable.

A feast for the eyes, the exhibition is on display until February 28.

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