Tag Archives: Art

Uncompromising and Steadfast in Art and Life: the Incomparable Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara

The stairs leading downward to Abdul Hay Mosallam Zarara’s studio get progressively smaller. The reduction of size is disconcerting. I have had recurring dreams about steps for years and I’m finally living the dreams. In my dreams the steps are stone, they differ in height and fade off into nowhere at great heights. The stones on Abdul Hay’s steps are worn to a shine with concave curves in the center. The steps resemble the marble on the Pieta where millions of people have touched the top of the foot of the figure of Jesus. Many of the steps in Jordan look similar. They are a physical record of the passage of millions of lives and history.

Anyone who is eighty years old, in poor health and blind in one eye, like Abdul Hay, and climbs these steps deserves a huge medal of courage. I was honestly ready to retrace my tracks at one point, but thank goodness I was too discombobulated to turn around on the narrow step. On the way down the stairs, we (Ahmad, Tamimi and I) were intercepted by a well known-artist, Mohammad Abuzraiq, who escorted us to Abdul Hay’s studio.

Abdul Hay greeted us at the door of his studio, invited us inside and served us coffee.

Mohammad Abdul Hay
Artist Mohammad Abdul Hay

The first question he asked me was, “Do you like Jordan?” After replying that I like Jordan a lot he asked why. I replied, “I like the people. They are wonderful and so welcoming.” He then said, “Yes, people. Heaven can’t be heaven without people. Who would want to die if people aren’t in heaven?” Abul Hay’s reply sums up my beliefs in a nutshell. People made it possible for me to come to Jordan and people are the reason I’m in Jordan, more specifically: the Palestinian people.

Abu Hay
Abu Hay

Abdul Hay is the “star” of all the artists I’ve met in my lifetime. Throughout all of his years of working consistently on his art he has never once compromised his ideas. This is probably the only reason many people outside of Jordan and a few places in the middle east aren’t aware of his art. His art meticulously documents the military occupation of Palestine, and the traditional and cultural history of Palestine.

After viewing his three-dimensional paintings he told me he’s been very sick for the past two years, unable to work and has lost his sight in one eye. He creates the three dimensional impasto reliefs for his paintings by smashing up tree roots in a palm-sized wooden bowl with a wooden stick that looks like a knot in a root.

I noticed one of his paintings is about Rachel Corrie – a documentation of her death by military bulldozer and a commemoration of her contributions to Palestinian human rights. Abdul Hay told me he contacted Rachel’s parents a couple of years ago and told them he wants to give them the painting. He said they told him they would come to Jordan to pick up the painting and he is waiting for her parents to arrive. The painting is wrapped in plastic, ready to go. If any readers know Rachel’s parents please let them know Abdul Hay is still waiting for their arrival.

Abdul Hay’s FB page:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Abdul-Hay-Mosallam/60228383528 

His Wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdul_Hay_Mosallam_Zarara

His gallery:
http://www.zaragallery.org/content/ArtistDetails.aspx?a_id=94#null  

His blog:
http://abdulhaymosallam.wordpress.com 

The following photos are of Abdul Hay in his studio displaying his three-dimensional painting about a woman who’s husband was killed by soldiers. After the death of her husband, she is pushed out of her house by soldiers and her son can no longer get milk from her breast. Without food and a home the son reaches for a rifle (really a stone) in an attempt to get his house back (represented by the key):

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Getting down to art business…

My Palestinian artist friend, Ahmad Canaan – with whom I worked on artistic endeavors twenty years ago in Palestine and the United States – recently left after visiting me for five days. The purpose of his visit was to be a liaison for finding the Palestinian women embroiderers for my art salon, to introduce me to established male artists from whom I will select seven to include their work in the art salon exhibition, and to help secure a gallery space for this exhibition in January.

Artist Ahmad Canaan
Artist Ahmad Canaan

Securing an exhibition at a top notch gallery within a four month time frame is not an easily reached goal – here or anywhere else! Gallery exhibitions are normally scheduled one to two years in advance. Before Ahmad’s departure today – miracle of miracles – these goals were accomplished!

Ahmad Canaan’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ahmad.canaan2

Shortly after Ahmad’s arrival he introduced me to a photographer, Abed Al Raheem Al Arjan, who has volunteered to contribute in major ways to securing excellent press coverage and opportunities for the exhibition.

Photographer Abed Al Raheem Al Arjan ("Raheem")
Photographer Abed Al Raheem Al Arjan (“Raheem”)

Raheem has personal relationships with everyone in the art world in Jordan, including the press and media throughout the Arab world, and is dedicated to establishing formats for the exhibition of contemporary art. He is also a laudable professional photographer.

Abed Al Raheem Al Arjan’s Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/abdalrheem.alarjan

Raheem drove Ahmad and I to Madaba, 20 miles SW of Amman, via the scenic route. We passed through the outskirts of Amman and small villages. On the way we stopped at Hisban, where Raheem’s father and grandfather lived and raised sheep. On the top of the hill is an old castle in disrepair. Luckily, I was able to snap a few photos before my twenty-five year old pocket camera was relegated to the trash.

We then proceeded to Madaba, a major tourist and Pilgrimage destination, known for it’s Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics. It houses the Shrine of the Beheading of John the Baptist, and the oldest existing mosaic map of Palestine…

http://www.atlastours.net/jordan/madaba_map.html

…and numerous other mosaic floors. Madaba is affectionately referred to as “mosaic city.”  [Click on photos to enlarge]:

Raheem currently has an exhibition of his photography (and his private art collection) in a Contemporary Art Gallery he established in the Historic Museum in Madaba.

After viewing Raheem’s exhibition and the historic museum collection we had coffee, smoked sheesha and had dinner at the newly-constructed restaurant next to the museum: Rakwet Cafe. The restaurant owner, Azziz, also has a restaurant in Paris Circle (I posted photos of his restaurant on my blog previously – the photos of the gorgeous tiles and ceilings) and another restaurant in Downtown Amman.

https://www.facebook.com/RakwetArabCafe

 

Raheem with Rakwet Cafe  owner, Azziz
Raheem with Rakwet Cafe owner, Azziz

The two owners of the Rakwet Cafe, Azziz and his partner, were being interviewed by Jordan Television while we were smoking sheesha and drinking Turkish coffee. Jordan television also interviewed Raheem.

Jordan TV interviewer and Raheem
Jordan TV interviewer and Raheem

After the filming concluded, we smoked more sheesha and Raheem showed my Family Ties-Occupation Art book, which I had self-published, to Azziz. Azziz expressed interest in publishing my book because, “It shows that all Americans don’t think the same.” He requested to keep the book for a few days and he and his partner generously graced us with a delicious dinner.

Raheem with sheesha
Raheem with sheesha

My book Family Ties: Occupied Art on lulu.com
http://www.lulu.com/ca/en/shop/suzanne-klotz/family-ties/hardcover/product-20492502.html

Jabal Al Weibdeh – neighborhood essentials

The following is a photo of my new hair-do, blowing in the wind. Although it’s not apparent in the photo, my Elvis duck tail is just what I wanted. I invited my hair stylist in Arizona, Lorrinda, to visit me while I’m in Jordan, but so far she hasn’t accepted my invitation. Yosef is now my “trim” hair stylist. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more affable “away from home” barber!

New hair cut
New hair cut

The following is a photo of Yosef with Khalid. Khalid was sent to stay for awhile in Jordan by his father, a good friend of Yosef’s.

Yusuf and Khalid
Yosef and Khalid

Everything that is essential for daily living is available in Paris Circle. We have the Stop and Shop that sells every item a household could want or need, including a food counter with ready made entrées, cheese and condiments. Stop and Shop has every soft drink in the world, including canned coffee from Taiwan, kitchenwares and mouse traps.

Stop and Shop, Paris Circle
Stop and Shop, Paris Circle

The Arab bank is in the Paris Circle (for withdrawing and exchanging money) and there are plenty of cafes within the first block of the five intersecting streets that converge in the circle. We also have shops for stationary, Jordan Hand Crafts, Mosaic Tile (and ceramic ware), beads and thread, fresh fruit and vegetables, hookah lounges and restaurants, and an internet cafe.

Paris Circle fruit and vegetable shop
Paris Circle fruit and vegetable shop

The internet cafe, @Cafe, is owned by Amjad Al Barcothy (pictured in the photograph).

Amjad Al Barcothy, owner of @Cafe
Amjad Al Barcothy, owner of @Cafe

Today my mission was to get photocopies of documents. I thought I’d need to traverse a million steps to find a copy place Downtown. I was pleasantly surprised to find Amjad’s @Cafe in Paris Circle. It is the second shop from the Circle on the street next to Sandra Flowers and More. @Cafe charges one JD per hour for use of one of their many laptops, free coffee and photocopies for ten piaster’s per page, with a discount for seven or more copies. It is open from ten in the morning until one in the morning. Amjad and I had an enjoyable lengthy conversation, using the translator on one of his laptops, while Mohammad printed photocopies of my documents.

Muhammad Nassr, @Cafe employee
Mohammad Nsaar, @Cafe employee

Now that I’m familiar with the neighborhood, I feel more comfortable about branching out into greater Amman. The shops are, almost on the whole, owned by generation after generation of the same family. The family business has been passed down from one generation to the next, ad infinitum. Each generation has pride of ownership that is evidenced in the quality of their service and hospitable interaction. As I said before, I couldn’t have been plopped in a better place in Jordan than Jabal Al Weibdeh (pronounced, and sometimes spelled, Web-dah).

 

Crossing Paris Circle
Crossing Paris Circle

Each day and night I do some beading on the canvas. Beading through thick, heavy canvas isn’t easy, and the light at night is not good, but art must go on!

Canvas detail, sewing beads
Canvas detail, sewing beads

Endless Mountain Staircases…

Steps to apartment homes
Steps to apartment homes

The city of Amman is built on seven mountains. And the word mountain means mountain – not a hill! Many years ago I saw Andorra from the top of nearby mountains as the car headed downward on steep windy roads. Andorra is a little country tucked between Spain and France, I was astounded by the verticalness of the buildings constructed on the side of a mountain, nearly 90 degrees. Amman is even more vertical than Andorra. I have never seen, or walked, so many 95 degree stone staircases and stairwells in my life. It is impossible to get from one destination to another without trekking up and down millions of steps. The residents here undoubtedly have the strongest thighs and lower backs in the world. The photograph above is one of the staircases that provides residents access to their homes on the opposite side of my mountain. The residents, from babies to great grandparents, climb hundreds of steps daily just to get to the street above or below their home.

The walls of the buildings that line the staircases are spotted with assorted graffiti expressing everything from short thoughts to more complex issues about Jerusalem and Palestine.

When I leave my apartment I usually walk up a sidewalk with a hefty incline to Paris Circle. After passing the water shop, I usually say hello to Ibraheem, whose family business is the flower shop nearby.

Water shop and flower shop, Paris Circle
Water shop and flower shop, Paris Circle

Today Zohreh, Randall, David and I trekked to the Shoman Foundation’s Darat Al Funon, an arts and culture center with a terraced cafe.

Fulbright peeps at Darat al Funon terrace
Fulbright peeps at Darat al Funon terrace
Darat al Funon, terrace cafe
Darat al Funon, terrace cafe

While drinking my mini-cup of thick coffee grounds and sugar I saw the artist I met recently, Mohammad Abu Aziz drinking coffee and was introduced to his artist friend, Iyad Kan’aan.

Muhmmad Abu Aziz and Iyad Kan'aan, local artists
Muhmmad Abu Aziz and Iyad Kan’aan, local artists

Both Muhammad and Iyad have absolutely gorgeous and profound art.
You might want to take a look at it yourself here:

Iyad:  www.iyadkanan.com  and
https://www.facebook.com/iyad.kanan?fref=pb&hc_location=profile_browser

Muhammad: https://www.facebook.com/muhammad.abuaziz

On our walk home we saw Fulbrighter Matt on the balcony of another coffee shop. We stopped to say hello and proceeded down the tile and stone sidewalk, window shopping.

Matt and friend
Matt and friend

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Fifty years ago, the Jabal Al-Weibdeh neighborhood area was considered the most stylish and upscale place to live in all of Amman. As far as I’m concerned, it still is. The historic arabesque architecture, and the multitude of cafés, shops and cultural centers are in direct contrast to the newly built “upscale” neighborhoods that have popped up throughout Amman.

Muhammad and Iyad invited me to meet with them at the Jabel Knowledge Culture (art gallery and cafe) at nine that night. Jadel is one of the oldest buildings in Amman, hidden away in one of the many dimly lit excessively long stairwells. Unsure as to whether or not I was taking the right staircase (in the dark they all look the same), I stopped at a barber shop and requested directions. Not knowing how to speak Arabic, or the exact name of the place, I returned to the barber shop twice after heading out to re-review my directions. The third time that I returned to the barber shop I decided to get my hair cut. I asked the barber for a trim by using hand gestures. He refused by using hand gestures and holding up an electric razor. Unless I wanted a buzz cut, I was in the wrong place. Thanking him for his time I headed off to another stairwell and eventually ended up at Jabel Knowledge/Culture.

After meeting Muhammad in Jabel/Knowledge and looking at the current exhibition of paintings by a Syrian woman we walked downtown to the oldest hookah lounge in Amman, secreted away at the top of a multitude of well worn stone steps with sawdust scattered on them. The lounge is in one of the oldest buildings in Amman.

Jabel Knowledge Culture Center
Jabel Knowledge Culture Center

When I entered the lounge I noticed I was the only female in the room, but my presence didn’t seem to bother anyone. Iyad showed up and we smoked hubbly bubbly, drank mini cups of thick, black coffee and talked about the important aspects of life:  art.

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Beginning the canvas…

The days have been piling up on top of each other with interesting events taking place each day:

José and his brother, Dario, came over to my apartment and cut out some canvas shapes that will be appliquéd onto the large “Seven Women’s House Keys” canvas.

José and Dario Martinez
José and Dario Martinez

Hanan Al Khaldi and her daughter Amira drove down from Zarqa at my request so that we could meet and discuss Hanan’s contributions to the Seven Women’s House Keys canvas. Ahmad Caanan, my Palestinian artist friend, with whom I worked on projects in the 1990’s, suggested I contact Hanan. Thanks, Ahmad!

Hanan Khaldi and Amira
Amira and Hanan Al Khaldi

Hanan’s family home is in Jerusalem. Therefore, her segment of the canvas is the central upper portion. After partaking in a really bad cup of (bullion) coffee, made by me, Hanan sat at the dining room table with the canvas stretched over it and started sketching ideas for her area. Amira began sewing beads on the border – embellishing the Arabic calligraphy denoting each of the Palestinian refugee camps. After puncturing her fingers numerous times with the sewing needle, I handed Amira band-aids and decided I must buy thimbles. I don’t use thimbles myself, as they always fall off.

Hanan
Hanan Al Khaldi

Hanan Al Khaldi’s Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/hanan.khaldi.3?fref=ts

As I mentioned before, the canvas is extremely thick and almost impossible to sew through with thin, small needles. I’ve, unknowingly, developed a technique for grasping the sides of the needle so the point doesn’t puncture the end of my fingers, alleviating a lot of finger damage. Amira asked if she can accompany her mother to the art salon, which I happily agreed to. They are both a joy and I’m so glad they will both be attending.

Hanan and Amira working
Hanan and Amira working

I then went to Malas sewing shop where I bought fourteen thimbles.

Malas sewing shop, where I bought thimbles
Malas sewing shop, downtown Amman opposite the Al Husseini Mosque

Two days ago, on September 8th, I met with Muhammad Abu Aziz, an artist who was also recommended by Ahmad Caanan.

Muhammad is a well known artist and photographer who lives near downtown Amman, close to where I am. He is also a consultant for Save the Children. He conducts art projects involving Syrian refugee youth, hopefully we will be able to collaborate on an art project for refugee youth.  Muhammad recently completed an exhibition of children’s drawings that was shown in Amman and will travel to Belgium, the Netherlands and in various parts of Europe.

Muhammed Abu Aziz
Muhammed Abu Aziz

Muhammad was recently awarded a scholarship from the French Institute to create a series of paintings derived from attending gatherings at the Jabal Knowledge hookah lounge. The lounge is tucked away in a building located on the side of a long stone staircase where philosophers, poets and notable personages gather to discuss pertinent current events in the Arab world. At present, the topic is Syria, Russia and the United States government’s proposal to attack Syria. Muhammad’s paintings of the attendees have an aura of mystery, and capture the intense thoughtfulness and diversity of perception of the attendees. I don’t know if a book will be published of Muhammad’s series of paintings, but if there is one, I will buy it. If the publication of a book isn’t part and parcel of his scholarship I volunteered to help him self-publish a book. His paintings are entrancing.

Mia’s 22nd birthday party!

Mia – Birthday Girl!
Mia – Birthday Girl! 

Congratulations Mia!  
22 at last!

It’s nothing but up from here!  Guaranteed!!!!!

Happy, happy birthday to you!

 

Abu Darwish Mosque

Abu Darwish Mosque detail
Abu Darwish Mosque detail

It’s September 6th today. It would be nice to have a “secretary” accompanying me on my daily jaunts to record the historical and cultural information I’m bombarded with and the names of the people I meet. Alas, I don’t have a secretary; therefore, I must organize my thoughts and document things on my own:

The wonderful Nahid, tour guide and taxi service
The wonderful Nahid, tour guide and taxi service

Zohreh and I went out today with our personal cab driver and tour guide, Nahid. Our first stop was at a beauty shop, Salibah, where Zohreh had her hair cut for 10 JD.

Zohreh at #1 haircut salon
Zohreh at #1 haircut salon

After the haircut we proceeded to the Abu Darwish Mosque:

Abu Darwish Mosque
Abu Darwish Mosque

It was built in 1961 and commissioned by the late King Hussein of Jordan and Mustafa Jakazi at the top of one of Amman’s seven hills, Jebel Al-Ashrafiyeh. Non-Muslims are generally not permitted inside, but the views on the way up are good. Its pattern of alternating black and white stones draw on traditional Levantine architecture. It can accommodate more than 7000 worshipers.

There is an intriguing story about the genesis of the mosque’s construction that involves two men: a Christian man and a Muslim who were best friends. They would get together and talk at the Muslim man’s bar (where liquor was served/consumed). As the years went by, and with much consumption of alcohol, their talks turned into arguments and the two men began arguing about everything while their friendship totally deteriorated. The two men then agreed to redeem their friendship to ensure its continuation by the Muslim man tearing down his bar and building a mosque instead, and the Christian man building a church. No more alcohol = no more disputes. It represents each of them going back to following the teachings of their respective religions, and in so doing, redeeming and strengthening their bond of friendship, which continued until the day each died. In my opinion, the conservative architecture of the Christian church, and the L.A. “Watts Tower-esque” architecture of the mosque, visually demonstrate the extreme differences between the personalities of the two men.

Regardless of their differences, religious practices and personal beliefs, the mosque and the church represent the beauty and richness that can only be created through unity in diversity.

We then went to Nancy’s shop, next to the Roman Theatre, where I bought my hand-embroidered Palestinian dress yesterday. I left my dress with her to have it shortened. Nancy’s father owns a store similar to hers in the Christian Quarter in Jerusalem. I am now wearing two rings that I bought in her shop, one of which is as a faux wedding ring. I am not a “ring” person, but an individual’s association with “family identity” is very important here. The idea of an older woman being single with no children is comparable to being a person without an identity here – a very sad and unfortunate state. Considering I’m happy, and feel extremely fortunate not to have a husband and kids, it’s psychologically easier to appear to be married rather than appearing to be a poor, lost soul thrown out to the wolves.

Before leaving the downtown area, Zohreh and I strolled through a few of the nearby shops. Today is Friday. On Fridays after noonday prayers in the mosques there are demonstrations in the downtown area. Considering Zohreh and I represent what is being protested, we ended our tour for the day and returned to our separate abodes. I am now at home, being my own secretary and eating the food in my pantry. My next tourist expedition will be to the Stop and Shop in the Paris Circle, hopefully tomorrow.

Old Citadel

Old Citadel
Old Citadel

 

Old Citadel view of Palestinian refugee camp
Old Citadel view of Palestinian refugee camp

Yesterday, September 4, a trusted taxi cab driver, Nahid, took me to the Old Citadel…the view from my living room window. It was incredible. It overlooks one of the Palestinian refugee camps that seems to go on forever.
We then went to the Roman Steps. At a shop by the Steps I bought a beautiful black Palestinian hand embroidered black dress from “Nancy.” Her father owns a similar shop in the Old City in Jerusalem, Palestine. She served Nahid and I coffee from a makeshift kitchen on the steps adjoining her shop.

Nancy's coffee bar, Roman steps
Nancy’s coffee bar, Roman steps
Shops near Roman steps
Shops near Roman steps

I met a Palestinian woman, about fifty years old, in the Paris Circle and we had a nice little chat. Her rent has been raised from 26JD a month to 60JD a month during the past three months. That is a good example of what the economy is doing here since the huge influx of Syrian refugees.
That is it for yesterday!

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