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The Work Does Not Mean Anything To Me

Thoughts on Art and Art Discourse

007 / 8 May 2014


You Are Not an Artist 2008

This word Does not mean anything to Me 2008



Amman 2008 – University of Jordan, Department of Art and Design

Theory of Modern Art, Postmodernism, Modern and Contemporary Arab Art, Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Printing, Art History, Aesthetics, Islamic Art, alongside others in music, theatre and design-related subjects.


Still life(s) of cubes and flower vases, portraits, abstractions that lend to Islamic designs and motifs, etchings and prints, colour wheels, more still life(s). Few conceptual works created, and very few artists after Picasso are discussed. Classical ideas around artistic practice dominate, and conceptual or contemporary practices resisted and rejected.


University of Jordan, Students Affairs building, The Painting Studio

The studio is open for any student of the university who wants to develop their painting as a hobby. The works are donated to decorate the different offices and hallways throughout the university, especially the Student Affairs building. These are essentially the works that the thousands of students – at the largest state university – are creating their impressions of what art looks like, its subject matter, learning informally to develop a visual language.


 Landscapes, calligraphy, portraits, still llife(s) many nationalistic in subject matter.






The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts

Two separate three-story buildings, and an open sculpture garden. Their collection began in 1979 with (predominantly modernist) works from the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Portraits, landscapes, abstractions, calligraphy and Islamic designs, in paintings, prints and sculptures.

'The Jordan National Gallery is a quiet place, tourists and school visits in the day time, but most of the time the lights are off until someone walks in. Nevertheless, let's consider the simple position of this museum as one of some authority on art, and a place in which people would be able to find points of reference to – at least some of – the works on display, as ones that embody different subjects related to Arab and Islamic culture and history.'.[1]





The Culprits

The artists, the audience and the critics; the people who contribute to the production, consumption and dissemination of artistic practices, who play their part in completing the circle.


Writings mostly describing the light and shadow, time and space in ambiguous language, referring to the figurative, quasi-abstract, landscapes, and still life works, which are at best described as expression of creativity, or cynically as ‘chicken scribbles’ produced by people perceived as UFOs with long hair who wake up late in the day, and talk funny.






'This Work Does Not Mean Anything to Me; Musing on Art and Art Discourse'[2] (2008–2011), is a two-part intervention in the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, with artworks from the collection of the Painting Studio of Jordan University. The work is an investigation on two levels.


On the one hand, it looks into the relationship between the artist, the audience and the critic around the work of art. Through interviews, these people participate in responding with their impressions on a selected number of works from the collection. The work is interested in creating a space in which we focus on the nuances in the language used by all three participants together. The research takes the interrogation further, by simultaneously translating the work into English as a further step to open up questions into artistic discourses, and issues of translation, transliteration and interpretation. The interviews are presented as audio pieces installed by the side of each work.


On the other hand, the intervention brings works produced by ‘non-artists’ for the Painting Studio of the Jordan University, and curates them into the collection of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, questioning the passive and active roles played by various institutions in defining an aesthetic language and understanding of ‘fine arts’, confronting the formal and informal art education presented through these institutions and their role in guiding a publics’ understanding and expectations of art.


For practitioners trained in painting and sculpture have throughout time and since the middle of the century, have been conversing about an urgent need to find grounds for answering the question; what makes Arab art Arab? And it perpetuates until today. The debated topic of finding an identity for Arab visual practices to distinguish them from their western counterparts, began as early as the 1950 and 60s, and later continued with more momentum during the meetings of the Association for Arab Artists in the 1970s. At the time, Arab Nationalistic ideologies became a channel through which visual production deployed itself. Nevertheless, with the changes in the political atmosphere for the region in the last decades, and the dissemination of the Arab Artists Association, the urgency of this issue ceased and remained for the most part undefined.


In this battle for definitions and dismissals, public officials began to play a part in this conversation in Jordan for example, by defining arts and culture as those translated directly through culture and tradition, where culture is seen within the framework of an Arab-Islamic identity, and the Arabic language[3]. The funding schemes of official bodies has also bread and nurtured an aesthetic within these definitions in various art disciplines, including the visual arts.


Without a strong infrastructure or historical tradition to build on for this relatively new practice, then perhaps the immediate and everyday visual encounters can be considered as an informal platform through which the general public is informally 'trained' to recognize an aesthetic language. Hence, where would art productions by important Jordanian artists fall in this respect is a question that is also posed as a framework for this project.


Taking these various constituents into account, the project uses language as a starting point from which to investigate these ideas. It is mainly, the use of vocabulary, the silences and linguistic nuances, hesitations, repetition and then the translation of these informal conversations with the viewer, the artists and the art critic, that present startings point for unpacking this relationship.




[1] At the time in 2008, there were many exhibitions from Spain in collaboration with the Embassy of Spain for some reason. There was a strong urge to replace the word 'Jordan' with 'Spanish' on the main sign of the building.

[2] Commission by Darat Al Funun: the Khalid Shoman Foundation for the exhibition Sentences on the banks and other activities curated by Abdellah Karroum, 2011.

[3]Cultural Policy of Jordan, published by the Ministry of Culture, Amman, 2007


About the author

Samah Hijawi

Samah Hijawi is a multi media artist, writer and curator living and working between Jordan and Belgium. Since 2005 she has collectively managed Makan Art Space in Jordan with Ola El Khalidi and Diala Khasawnih, and co-curates the on-going platform The River has Two Banks with Toleen Touq and Shuruq Harb. Her artistic projects have been presented in Darat Al Funun; the Khalid Shoman Foundation, Jordan, MoMA, USA, Beirut Art Center, Lebanon and Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, Germany among others.