Alive in the Dead Sea (1995 - 2015)

The exhibition responds to political and social outcomes of past and present events, as well as their connection with literature, music, and film. 19 January - June 2016, Darat al Funun, Amman.
Mar 2016

Darat al Funun presents Alive in the Dead Sea (1995 - 2015), the second exhibition exploring the history of art in the region, the relationship between art and political and historical transformations, and the dialogue between art and literature, music, and cinema, through the artworks of The Khalid Shoman Collection. The first exhibition was Rituals of Signs and Transitions and covered the decades between 1975 and 1995.

Alive in the Dead Sea (1995 - 2015) takes its name from the book by Jordanian author Munes al Razzaz, which presents an important, albeit harsh, testimony about the reality of the current state of the Arabs in the post-colonial era we live in today.

The exhibition Alive in the Dead Sea (1995 - 2015) showcases Arab art created at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, and documents or responds to political and social outcomes that are the result of past and present events, as well as their connection with literary, musical, and cinematic productions of the time.

Artistic and cultural production at the time responded to the events that took place between 1995 - 2005. The first five years of this period witnessed a period of relative calm, as if in preparation for an upheaval that would transform the world as we know it. The second Palestinian Intifada ignited in 2000. The Twin Towers in New York were attacked in 2001. Israel started building the separation wall in 2002. Iraq was invaded in 2003. This was followed by a series of assassinations and bombings in Lebanon and simultaneous suicide attacks in Amman in 2005, and culminated in the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 and the Israeli war on Gaza in 2008. The Arab Spring started in 2011, the outcomes of which are still reverberating today, especially in Syria. These events changed the paths of individuals, countries, and the world, and at the same time nourished various artistic practices in efforts to document the transitions we live through.

The period in question was the starting point for the wider dissemination of various "post-modern" ways of practicing art, including video art, installation art, photography and conceptual art, in an attempt to better understand the world, and utilize a mode of expression in connection with pivotal issues, such as the Palestinian cause and Arab liberation. These artworks stimulate discussion surrounding the aesthetics of our modern era.

It seems that contemporary art from that period derives its value from 'concepts' more than being a mere reflection of the events occurring at the time. The Palestinian cause began to take on a more aware role, one that addresses an era that has carried unrelenting sorrow for 68 years. This can be seen in Ahlam Shibli's Death series (2011-12), which confronted the subject in an open and obvious manner by re-incarnating Palestinian martyrs. The work was fiercely contested in several international exhibition spaces. Suha Shoman's video Bayyaritna (2009) speaks of the destruction of her family's orange groves in Gaza, which dated back to 1929; a smaller version of Palestine undergoing destruction and devastation at the hands of the occupier. In The Wall (2005) Rula Halawani relays the reality of the Apartheid Wall in all of its might and its impact on the daily life of Palestinians. The city of Jerusalem returns to play a central role, and becomes a symbol of hope in the iconic work Jerusalem Calling (2008) by Abdul Hay Mosallam. In Wael Shawky's video Al Aqsa Park (2006) the artist transformed the Dome of the Rock into a form that can be found in fairgrounds as a symbol of political folly.

Raed Ibrahim's installation The State of Ishmael (2009) announces the formation of a new state on the original land of its inhabitants, with the justification that this is a "historical right". In his work, he claims archaeological findings and metal coins, and requests inhabitants to fill in an immigration application.

New media forms are also used to express more personal sentiments. This is for example the case in the light work I'm Sorry (2008) by Adel Abidin, who highlights the Western view towards the invasion of his home country Iraq, in the gaudy and meaningless sentiment expressed through the apology.

Artistic production during this period also displays a more aware interaction, in some cases in an almost visionary way, as a tool to urge the masses toward change and liberation from a troubled world, by reviving basic principles of life. In the video The Echo (2003), Moataz Nasr revives a scene from the film 'Al Ard' (the Earth), directed by Youssef Shahin. In the film, the protagonist, played by famous Egyptian actor Mahmoud el Meliguy, scolds a number of people sitting at a cafe for their passive attitude towards the British Occupation and economic recession. Nasr juxtaposes this scene set in 1933 with 2003 footage of storyteller Chirine el Ansary delivering the same plea word for word in a Cairo cafe. Another work, Silence of Sheep (2009-10) by the late Amal Kenawy, is considered a prophetic work predicting what would take place in Tahrir Square and other Arab states barely a year later.

In her installation We (2008) Buthayna Ali reminds us of basic principles of humanity by confronting the regression of the main functions of society. Hrair Sarkissian takes the final traces of transformation in the Arab World to a personal level in his video work Homesick (2014), now exhibited for the first time in the Arab world. Asunción Molinos Gordo addresses the significance of land in the current struggles in her work The Peasant Has A Hoe (2013). Meanwhile, Walid Raad/The Atlas Group deconstructs the history of Lebanon through the fictional documentation in an imaginary archive in his video I Only Wish That I Could Weep (2003).

On the other hand, the world witnessed the death of Egyptian musician Sheikh Imam in 1995. He was one of the most important musicians, who established something of an alternative movement in music, independent of the state or institutions. It therefore made sense that independent musicians and groups, such as Egyptian band 'Eskanderella', who were hosted by Darat al Funun in 2012, would take inspiration from his music in the context of the Arab Spring. In 2004, Palestinian musician Kamilya Jubran performed in the archaeological site at Darat al Funun. In the words of Lebanese poet Paul Shaoul: "How can I call it? All these wars, burnt cities, hills, broken imaginations, crowds, how do I call it? Maybe all that remains for me is one view, towards one wall, and in one direction."

Intellectual production in the Arab world regressed significantly as compared to the improvements in post-modern Arabic novels. In addition to Munes al Razzaz from Jordan, who passed away in 2002, a new set of writers emerged. They include Rabie Jaber, with his long project that sheds light on coastal societies on the eastern Mediterranean and its hills, and Huda Barakat, who, with a much-needed transparency, tells stories of human relationships that are destroyed and built by modern history. Bahaa Taher wrote flowing stories about characters relaxing in the shadows of big cities. Khalid Khalifa and Sinan Anton can be considered the two most important voices of the present in terms of documenting what we have lost and are losing in Syria and Iraq.

In 2010, the Arab world lost an important intellectual who will continue to transform Arab critical thought for a long time, and that is Egyptian scholar Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid, while in 2005 we witnessed the assassination in Beirut of Samir Qaseer, who courageously pointed towards the flaws of our society today.

The exhibition Alive in the Dead Sea (1995-2015) revives the attempts at liberation through art, literature, visual, and cinematic productions, and reaffirms the role of art and its connection with our individual and collective histories.


© Text: Darat al Funun. The Khalid Shoman Foundation.

Alive in the Dead Sea (1995 - 2015)
Art, Books, Visual and Audio Productions

19 January - June 2016

Darat al Funun
P.O.Box 5223
Website / Email

Artists from The Khalid Shoman Collection
in the exhibition:

Abdul Hay Mosallam, Adel Abidin, Adnan Yahya, Ahlam Shibli, Amal Kenawy, Asunción Molinos Gordo, Burak Delier, Buthayna Ali, Hrair Sarkissian, James Webb, Jumana Emil Abboud, Moataz Nasr, Mohammad Hawajri, Nida Sinnokrot, Oraib Toukan, Randa Mirza, Raed Ibrahim, Rheim Alkadhi, Rula Halawani, Salah Saouli, Suha Shoman, Wael Shawky, and Walid Raad/The Atlas Group.

Related Content:

The exhibition investigates the relationship between art works and political and historical transitions. Darat al Funun, Amman, Jordan. 19 May 2015 - January 2016.
Interview with Suha Shoman, Founder and Chair of the Khalid Shoman Foundation and Darat al Funun, the Home for the Arts in Amman, Jordan.
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