press clips
summer academy
currently on
workshops
activities archive



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June, 2004
Artists with a message

Ica Wahbeh, The Weekender

AMMAN: Maha Mustafa and Ibrahim Rashid are two intense artists who believe in art with a message. Theirs has a humanitarian dimension: Art is part of life, no different from it, and humankind should strive to reach dialogue and harmony instead of destruction and war.

Considering that the couple, who've called Sweden home for about 17 years, come from devastated Iraq, the desire to convey such a message is easily understood. And seeing an old image of the two husband and wife, but also best friends for very long on a see-saw in their garden in Baghdad and a dried up once green patch seared in the film made on the artists by the Swedish TV (movie meeting the visitor at the entrance of the exhibition at the Darat Al Funun), one cannot but conjure images of the suspended gardens of Babylon, once a symbol of civilization, juxtaposed to a destroyed Iraq, ablaze under bombs of a different civilization.


Yet, instead of wallowing in the past and complaining about the present, the two artists, she a sculpture, he a painter, channel their energy and creativity, of which the viewer is given ample proof, towards raising issues, generating inspiring art, giving out a message at different levels: Humanitarian, civic, philosophical and, above, all, artistic. Pollution, of man and nature, is the nagging issue at their present exhibition. But then, equally constant is the message that all 6 billion of us, inhabitants of this hospitable earth, need to rise above it all, transcend experiences that may lead us towards destruction and live in harmony.

The life journey definitely left an imprint on and inspired this talented couple, it also made them more acutely aware of deeper concepts: Life, death, our relation with nature and its elements, our place on the planet. It also made their works, like their lives, intertwined, complimenting each other, making a whole. Complex personalities who ask many questions, and probably have found many answers, Maha and Ibrahim love contrasts and find symbolism in almost everything around them. He is fascinated by the contrast between past and present, the differences among seasons, by the many forms and effects of water, for example.

Having to travel the length of Sweden to pick up and award, Ibrahim reached the North Pole. The journey, by train, enabled him to witness the four seasons within a few hours. "Like a time tunnel", enthuses the artist. His paintings, "gardens in all seasons", are journeys through time, each affected by its passage in a different way, each thick brush of paint reaching "inside", making one look for deeper meanings. The rich colours are mostly green, ochre, black, burnt orange, gray and white. The paintings are often grouped together, completing each other, creating a continuum, suggesting smooth passage of the time that eventually ravages but also regenerates.

Conveying more symbols and putting side-by-side more contrasts, a video installation that stars the viewer on the tour of the exhibition invites one to mediation. Water, in different manifestations, is the medium that conveys meanings and symbols. Purified by coal, in one video, and steaming in a pressure cooker, in another, the sight of water makes one ask why it needs to be purified in the first place. Why do we pollute everything we touch, even if at our own expense? Why is there need to keep pressure on things, knowing that eventually the force building inside will explode with, perhaps, catastrophic consequences? More food for thought? Well, Ibrahim is ready to give it to us. A breathing man, back to the camera and filmed very closely, will almost make you breathe with his rhythm. His back expands and contracts with every inhale/exhale exercise and his breathing could be heard, punctuated by a bird's trill. Is it clean or polluted air that fills his lungs? One can only guess, but knowing that pollution is constantly on the artists' mind, optimism is not the first feeling.

Some paintings are covered with letters or figures. The text talks about the one dear subject, nature, the figures of time spent on work, inexorably passing like life and civilizations. Maha's introspective nature, deeply philosophical and finding a multitude of symbols in one simple line, produces installations/sculptures of an amazing purity and simplicity, steeped in meaning.

Her "red lines", startling shapes twisting, spiraling or smoothly wavy, made up aluminum "glazed" with a shiny coat of dark rich red, purple or black colour, are incredible stylized symbols. Her interest in contrast is more concrete: Fire, lava, heat versus ice. She seeks to reconcile these and do it harmoniously. So if the red lines could be those of flowing lava or raging fire, they can also be the so many "red lines" governing our lives: A separation wall, "the equator that separates the north from the south", the lines which we cannot, should not or are not allowed to trespass and go beyond. They could be the civilized ethic codes of conduct, but also the cruel lines between poverty and wealth, between men and women, between peace and war. And, in having attributed one of her creations the name of the Dead Sea (which, incidentally, Maha refuses to see as a dead body of water but as a life-giving salt-producing source), the red line is simply the fault line that passes through it and under which magma bubbles ready to surface anytime in a devastating quake.

Constantly seeking to keep pace with time and technological discoveries, Maha makes use of different materials to create art. Laser light or optic fiber are used to give life to amorphous matter. A 220 volt heating coil, projecting in the background of a very dark room draws the viewer like a magnet but suddenly stops him short in his tracks: The heat emanated is forbidding. More lines, more contrast, more symbols. And probably the installation that gave the exhibition the name "Beyond 100 C". Another prohibiting red line.


An ingenious installation of three frames reveals inspiration unbound. Negative film of nature images, trying to show "the other photo of nature, not the one the eye sees, but the one that could be", is "bagged" in translucent plastic, each having some sand, salt and wheat ears at the bottom, illuminated by tiny light clusters. The light, to Maha, is symbol of the human being: a light in himself, energy, contrast with death. The "bags" are 'for us to take everywhere". Isn't it what art should be? Something we carry with us and within us? The two artists clearly believe that art should reach everyone and their tireless effort makes sure their works leave an indelible mark on those viewing them.

press clips
summer academy
currently on
workshops
activities archive

place | activities | resource | people

site map | home | contact us | search | help