Flying with Ahmad Nawash
Dear art peeps,
I finally got to try the famous Jordanian Mansaf last weekend at the well known Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Restaurant and let me just say that the Mansaf survival kit includes a 6 pack of sparkling water and a rosary prayer to avoid artery blockage. But it was quite delicious!
For today’s newsletter, I chose an artist that I recently discovered on one of the walls at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts.
Ahmad Nawash (1934- 2017) was born in Ain Karem, a Palestinian village just south of Jerusalem. At the age of fourteen, the Zionist occupation of Palestine forced him and his family out of their home. They sought safety in Jericho before eventually crossing the river to Jordan, settling first in Salt and then relocating to Amman. When he was about ten to twelve years old he produced his first work of art which depicted the medieval ruler Salah al-Din.
Nawash studied lithography, zinc etching and the restoration of oil paintings. Nawash’s work carries that experience of forced displacement with him. He stated that a genuine work of art “is the original fruit of its environment,” which, for him, was “Palestine and Jordan, together with the remainder of the Arab World and its miserable masses.”
The figures in Nawash’s work embody elements such as body displacement, entanglement, dysmorphia and much more. Most of his figures have a hunched back, facing either the right or left, as if carrying the whole world on their backs. This reminded me of reading about the ability of trauma to be stored inside our bodies. Nawash successfully translates that through his dream-like, melancholic figures that bend the laws of nature and humanity and portray his perplexed thoughts and feelings.
I am especially fond of “ The Worries of An Arab” الإنسان العربي و همومه 1984 (fig.1) which depicts two overlapping figures on top of each other’s heads embodied with what seems to be a bird. Could Nawash be portraying his desire to fly, relocate and possibly return home? The figures in his work fly in an imaginary sky and rarely stand on the ground. This ‘second head’ phenomenon that recurs throughout his paintings is “perhaps a partner or alternate consciousness,” Nawash explains in an interview with Samia A. Halaby.
Despite the gloomy picture that Nawash paints, his work expresses hope for the future. He believes that as an artist, he contributes his role in trying to change the dark side of humanity by creating critical, highly judgemental artworks.
His style has been perceived as a mix between fauvism and expressionism and even at times surrealism or even as primitive art of the likes of Pablo Picasso. However, his work has marked the art scene with his Nawash-esque style, especially being one of Jordan's most appreciated and admired artists.
The famous Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata critiqued Nawash’s work by saying that it seems “to reveal the hallucinations of one unable to scream.”
It has become increasingly hard to watch the news with the world literally burning on fire . Yet Nawash’s art reflects the world’s suffering from a personal and in-depth perspective: through art we express despair and in return receive relief.
What thoughts do you have towards Nawash’s work? Does it make you float like his figures in mid-air?