Tribal Identities

Something about the Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett reminds me of Amman…

I can imagine Sherlock descending dark stairways at night and disappearing into unobtrusive, barely visible doorways. Possibly my association of this tv show with Amman is in the intrigue and mystery of the age-old stairwells, walkways and buildings. They seem to capture and “possess” the energy of the people who frequented them.
[Click on images to enlarge]:

Shortly after arriving in Amman I was informed that, “In Jordan, individuals are family-identified: the tribal affiliation takes precedence over an individual’s identity. Individuals are expected to support and pursue the common good of the group. It matters to whom and to what you affiliate yourself. These affiliations bring responsibilities as well as advantages.”

Although I have no familial connections in Jordan, I do have a tribal identity that I am very grateful for. My tribe is other artists, whether in Jordan or anywhere in the world. The life experiences of the artists I’ve met in Jordan are as intriguing as their art. When I return home I may do a work of art on each of them.

The artist and well-known writer who escorted us to Abu Hay’s studio was Mohammad Abu Zraiq. After visiting with Abu Hay we went to Mohammad Abu Zraiq’s studio in his home.

Mohammad Abuzraiq
Mohammad Abu Zraiq

Mohammad Abu Zraiq has ten published books in Arabic about the arts and is also a poet. Two of his books are used in higher education as Fine Arts textbooks throughout the middle east: Graphic Art (for Foundation art students) and an art history text entitled: Art from the Beginning of Painting to Now.  His other books include: Dialectic about Art, Tawfiq Alsaid: His Life and Art, Shamoun, and About 21 Artists in Jordan. He is one of the most respected art writers in the middle east.

His paintings are a visual documentation of his journey through this life. His father was killed in the 1948 occupation of Palestine when he was six months old. The following painting is of his mother carrying him in her shawl, with her belongings bundled on her head, when she left their home in Gaza to go to Jericho:

Woman with Child by Mohammad Abu Zraiq
Woman with Child, by Mohammad Abu Zraiq

Mohammad Abu Zraiq, a self taught artist, has been a teacher for many of the contemporary artists in Jordan. As a child he painted murals on the interior walls of his home using mud mixed with found pigments: washing blue (detergent) and toilet cleaner for cobalt, mud for white, beet juice for red and turmeric for yellow.

At eighteen years old he walked from Jericho to Amman, eventually settling in Hetteen refugee camp near Zarca (population 90,000). During his years in the refugee camp he made great contributions to the education of the children including establishing a library. After retiring from teaching with UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) in the camp he moved to Amman in 2001.

The Key, by Mohammad Abu Zraiq
The Key, by Mohammad Abu Zraiq

His life experiences, similar to many Palestinians in Jordan, have been filled with hardship and deprivation but, in spite of this, his love for people and life shines through his art, his memories and in his very presence.

Woman with Feather, by Mohammad Abu Zraiq
Woman with Feather, by Mohammad Abu Zraiq

2 thoughts on “Tribal Identities

  1. Suzie, fascinating, as always! I loved thinking about a boy growing up as an artist, but lacking materials and finding them in the toilet bowl cleanser, detergent, beet juice and turmeric of his home. I loved the idea of artists being your tribe, too! The world twists and turns through its complex and agonized spasms, but somehow art keeps on being produced. God bless artists!

    1. Hi Jenny, yes….we can find art supplies ALL around us. Thank you for your comment. I hope all is well with you.

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