The Exhibition “Out of the Desert” at Darat al Funun echoes with the voices of those who lived in the desert and recorded their heritage on the eternal rocks of the Jordan. A visual celebration of man’s journey in time, from Nabataean to modern day, Nabataean artifacts, Safaitic stones and papyrus scrolls are all on display for the first time at Darat al Funun, allowing the public to relive their glory. The installation setting them apart was designed by architect Sahel al Hiyari. Modern inspirations by the Jordanian desert include video art by Suha Shoman titled "I am Everywhere", and graphic art by Hakim Jamain titled "Salt of the South".
The archaeology installations highlight the latest antiquities discovered in the sites of Beidha and Rajl. InBeidha, a nomadic group appeared who, by the first century B.C., had established themselves as the masters of one of antiquity’s major trade routes. The site of Beidha, about 10 km north of Petra, was a place where wine was produced; it also seems to have served as a retreat for the citizens of Petra. In May 2005, and after three years of excavations in Beidha, headed by Dr. Patricia Bikai (American Centre of Oriental Research), 30 stone heads and a number of capitals were unearthed. Believed to have decorated a banquet hall dating back to the first Century B.C., these finds are on display for the first time.
Jordan’s Eastern Desert inspired nomads over millennia, and the rocks of Rajl are a fine example. The stones, arranged into circles and mounded groups called cairns, often had carvings of texts and figures. In Jordan, the cairns vary in size. Some have more than a hundred stones while others have only a few. The function of these formations is not yet established; they may have been desert rallying points, camping, herding or burial sites. The incised images on the stones include wild and domesticated animals, men and women, as well as hunting and caravan scenes. The Cairn of the Mermaids, being documented by Dr. Pierre M. Bikai of ACOR, is a spectacular rock art site with beautiful images and inscribed texts, written in Safaitic, those in Arabic are in Kufic script, thus indicating a late period, perhaps the eighth century.
Also on display in the main building of Darat al Funun are “Petra Papyrus Khalid & Suha Shoman”. The papyrus scroll is part of a group of scrolls found at Petra during excavations conducted by ACOR under the general direction of Dr. Pierre M. Bikai (1993). Written in Byzantine Greek and dating back to the 6th century A.D., the scrolls contain unique evidence of the history and development of the Arabic language; many of the personal names on the scrolls, although sounding Greek or Latin, may in fact be Semitic or, more specifically, Arabic. The scrolls were stored in a room adjacent to the Petra Church and were carbonized - and thus preserved - when the church burnt down.
Parallel to the archaeological exhibition are contemporary inspirations by the desert. Suha Shoman’s video art “I am everywhere” is “a reflection on the opposite forces of existence, presence and absence, visible and invisible, fear and faith”. The film resonates with the spirit of Beidha where the silent rocks echo with life.
In the Blue House, Jordanian artist Hakim Jamain shares his nomadic experience with a series of graphic art prints and drawings, inspired by the same desert.