"In the main building of Darat al Funun, a feast of colour and beauty meets the eye. At the entrance, a big sand and mixed media canvas depicting a dark blue sea and ochre sand, by Mohammad Kaitouqa (Jordan), welcomes the visitor. Specialised in murals and stained glass, Kaitouqa started using sand and – 'blossomed.' Further ahead, Jordanian Rajwa Ali's little prints flank the entryway to the room where the square, a recognized earth symbol, all the more imposing after Rajwa's minimal works, is used in monumental works by Kamal Boullata (Palestine). Working with purity of form, Boullata's geometrical representations are based on this particular geometrical shape. Superimposing it and playing with colours, he creates optical effects that exact the viewer's attention. Behind Boulatta's passion for geometry, says art critic Abdelkebir Khatibi, – lies the tradition of icon-painting, which forged the beginnings of his artistic training, a tradition that has maintained a venerable continuity between Byzantium and the Arabo-Islamic civilisation of the Middle East”. The artist dynamically experiments with square, symbols and shapes; you can either see light seeping through his canvas (a stain-glass church window calmly reflecting sun light) or two overlaid squares making a hexagon (the Dome of the Rock of his childhood). Pure lines yet mystical thoughts, the dream world of an exile is present in the mostly pastel-coloured works of this artist.
At the very entrance, Egyptian Adam Henein's sculptures complement Jordanian Samer Tabbaa's works. Henein's works on papyrus are contemporary abstracts that betray a traditional, pharaonic, background.
Many perspectives open in this room, but Algerian Rachid Koraichi's impressive calligraphic paintings, illustrations of Mahmoud Darwish's and Mohamad Dib's poems, are particularly bound to capture the eye. Perhaps the disciplined alignment of the paintings, perhaps the golden print on black canvas or perhaps the desire to decipher the secret contained in his lettering draw the viewer. Perhaps, again, it is just the mastery of an artist whose skill is as complex as it is unexpected. His inscriptions challenge the imagination. The signs seem to follow no distinct direction. They are contorted images of a purity and simplicity achieved only by Chinese ideograms, hieroglyphs that can be read by Arab viewers but are more likely to confound the others. Where does an image begin and where does it end? Are they images of Darwish's people and places (twisted human bodies in the devastated camps of Sabra and Shatilla, a mosque's minaret) or a double of the poet's writings, creating amorphous monograms? Koraichi's pottery, well known and appreciated, is on display under the calligraphic works. His olivettes draw inspiration from the shape of the traditional Tunisian jars used for storing olives. Opening yet another perspective, a small hall at the end holds Jordanian Mona Saudi's sculpture of an embracing figure (inspired by Brancusi) and, above, her illustrations of Adonis' poems –The Petra Tablets”. Perhaps, again, it is just the mastery of an artist whose skill is as complex as it is unexpected.
The hall overlooks the verandah where an installation by Nasser Soumi (Palestine) -- sea waves plastered, here and there, with s-shaped orange peels -- shows the obvious source of inspiration: Palestine's Mediterranean. While somehow delineating the exhibition hall, it also lets the eye wander beyond, to the horizon, opening a vast expanse for the imagination to run wild.
More of the –support surface” movement is to be found in an adjacent room. The astounding works by Vera Tamari (Palestine) are a series of photographs, in the background, and clay masks on poles, in the foreground. Her –Oracles from the sea” composition is made up of amazing faces in raw clay colour, symbolically representing the –coming back” process. More clay works by Faisal Samra (Saudi Arabia) complement Tamari's. This contemporary artist's collection, –Nabataeans”, is a collage of clay, paper and feathers, framed ingeniously in glass panes.
Making use of natural materials (straw, mud) and dyes (aniline, henna), Suleiman Mansour (Palestine) shows that anything can be turned into art. Next to his works, Moroccan Farid Belkahia's are also made using natural material (leather) and dye. Nasser Soumi is present here as well with an imaginative and highly symbolic composition. People leaving Akka in 1948 could take nothing with them but the image of its sky, represented in small pieces of aniline-dyed cloth pegged to lines that come as an extension of his painted sea seen through an open window. Through it, beyond a boat on the sea, white houses are profiled on the horizon; a place engraved in the collective memory of a displaced people, next to the blue sky.
Nadim Muhsin (Iraq) is yet another artist who makes use of the square and of natural material (rice paper or sack cloth). His sculpture made of tin (two stylized silhouettes) is projected artistically against the white background wall and proves that, with talent and inspiration, everything can be used and turned into beautiful art work.
Completing the display in the room, Iraqi Shaker Hassan Said's works, spanning 30 years, illustrate the search for art, from Sufism to abstract, of a first-generation contemporary Arab artist. His philosophical approach, using numbers and symbols, is present, as is his more modern method, allowing work to flow out of the frame, excluding limitation. It is an artist's refusal to be encased in a mould, letting imagination and spirit soar.
Also in the main building, the –room of portraits” houses more treasures. Fahrelnissa Zeid's interior, of the 40s, Impressionist abstract lithographs, of the 50s, portraits, of the 70s, and a stained glass panel, done in the twilight of her life, are as many works of art documenting the life and creation of a prolific artist.
Ismail Fattah (Iraq), both a painter and a sculptor, has a captivating power of expression, –if only on account of the power of the line and its animation enjoyed by the artist, with drawn forms appearing almost as protrusive as his sculptured works.
Sculptures by Iraqis Mohammad Hussein Abdullah and Himat Ali and Lebanese Shawki Shawkini bring as many styles and colour to the room, while the wonderful graphics of Syrian Ziad Dalloul (illustrations of Adonis' poems) and of Iraqi Rafa Nasiri's add a sober note to the whole.
Mohammad Kacimi (Morocco), with his painting on an old film reel box, and Tunisian Abdelrazak Sahli, who paints on sack cloth and on everyday things to prove that art is everywhere, show the influence of both native and French cultures on their artistic makeup. Bringing the room to a full circle, the monumental paintings of heads by Syrian Marwan (Kassab Bashi) are both –portraits”, offsetting Fahrelnissa's at the opposite end, and landscapes that ask to be figured out by a dazzled viewer. German expressionism influenced this artist who lives, works and is exhibited in Berlin. His paintings haunt and stay etched in memory.
Even works by students of the Darat Al Funun Summer Academy (directed by Marwan) are on display, in an act of recognition that may propel them to the forefront of the art scene in the Arab world. Search for art is universal, appreciation is acquired and the desire to educate the public and give it the chance to taste the best is obviously the reason why Suha Shoman decided to put on display her private collection. Art lovers have now all the time to delight in the works of some of the best contemporary Arab artists." Ica Wahbeh, Jordan Times, 2003