Hani Alqam

Jordan 1977. Lives and works in Amman.

Hani Alqam works in places around Amman, both anonymous and well-known, adopting them as the main subject of his artistic production. He attended the 1999 and 2001 Summer Academy at Darat al Funun under the direction of Marwan, and in 2007 exhibited a body of work depicting the Arab League Café in downtown Amman.

"Rather than take up a role as agitator or commentator, the artist assumed the role of sympathetic ethnographer and set about claiming a distance from his subject. The resulting paintings in acrylic on cardboard closely observe protagonists in a setting that seems to have slipped into the status of an exception – a place out of time, a position of alterity. The style of the drawing fixes all existences as glimpsed inside the institution into heavily outlined cups, tables, chairs, screens, craggy faces frozen in profile. Colors are laid in with washy strokes following plein air painting conventions that reiterate the distancing effect of the observational gaze. In a more recent mural-scale painting of an Arab League Café sketch that Alqam completed for the opening of the new lab space at Darat al Funun and installed on an interior courtyard wall, five different animate and inanimate figures are distributed across five vertical panels: three chairs in frontal view (each set within a separate panel) and two groupings of sitting men. Around each, opaque shadings of pastel green and gray descend as if a dusky twilight as floating signifiers of surface design – a kind of decorative molding behind a chair; fragments of flooring tile – recall Matisse and the flattened interior space of his Orientalist studies (see the 1912 painting Arab Coffee House in The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia). Not only do these paintings emphasize the properties of paint and color over illusionism, but they also abstract the mechanism of the café ideal into mere parts: chairs without bodies, tables without relation to three-dimensional space."

Excerpt from 'Distances Greater than Between these Walls: On Ideals and the Constitution of an Audience' by Anneka Lenssen in Arab Art Histories (The Khalid Shoman Foundation, 2013).