As Orient Gallery celebrates its 20th anniversary, we look back at what made it the force it is in Amman’s art scene.
This year, Orient Gallery will celebrate two decades exhibiting pioneering contemporary art in Amman, Jordan. Orient Gallery has always delighted followers of contemporary art in the Middle East with its rich and excellent exhibitions. Moreover, the gallery’s enduring commitment to aesthetic experimentation and its unflinching engagement with social issue has proved a template for success in the creation of a local cultural institution.
“The establishment of Orient Gallery came about by pure coincidence,” Hala Jardaneh, the founder of Orient Gallery, tells us. “Rather than deciding on establishing a gallery and looking for the space, my father had the space in Shmeisani. An Iraqi friend of the family once visited us and inspired me to take another look at the space and consider it for an art gallery.” Orient Gallery was immediately established and launched in 1996.
When Orient Gallery was launched, there were very few galleries in Amman for artists – both local and regional – to exhibit their works. To invite artists to exhibit at your gallery back in 1996 was no easy task. “[Back then] there were no emails, social media or SMS services,” Jardaneh says. “Communicating with our collectors involved picking up the phone and physically sending invitation cards.”
Awareness of the art scene in Amman was not mature in 1996, and it bears noting that its later growth owes much to the taste-making legacy of Orient Gallery. At the time, however, it was difficult to market Jordanian art to collectors since they believed the local art scene was not well developed.
Despite these challenges, Orient Gallery managed to contribute greatly to the art scene in Amman. It was through its dedication to creativity and its skill in attracting collectors that the careers of many of the region’s successful artists today were launched and fostered. The distinctive stylings of Fadi Daoud or the romantic sweeps of Ali Amr reached the public sphere thanks in no small part to their exhibitions at the Orient Gallery.
Artists such as Bahrain’s Jamal A. Rahim, Iraq’s Serawan Baran, Syria’s Bahram Hajuo and Jordan’s Ghassan Abu Laban have all found in Amman in general, and Orient Gallery in particular, a haven for local and regional art. Jardaneh’s unceasing persistence to bring international and regional names to Amman, as well as celebrate and shed a light on local talents, is a testimony to her passion for art and desire to see Arab artists successful on a global scale.
Inquiring about some of the highlights in the history of Orient Gallery, Jardaneh informs us “Over the past 20 years, Orient Gallery played host to a number of ‘firsts’ in Jordan, such as Claire Chevolleau (Lebanon) in 1997, Ahmad Sheiha (Egypt) in 1999, Sabhan Adam (Syria) in 2000, Georges Bassil (Lebanon) in 2004, Jamal A Rahim (Bahrain) in 2008, Suheil Badour (Syria) in 2010, among others.”
Jardaneh recalls one of her most memorable group exhibitions, Wadi Rum Retreat: East and West Meet Around a New Compass (2006) and tells us, “Orient Gallery, in cooperation with the European Commission in Jordan, invited a group of Jordanian, Arab and European artists to undergo an exciting artistic experience that relates to Wadi Rum.” The resulting artworks were exhibited at the gallery and the environment throughout was unforgettably positive and accommodating to all.
Another memorable exhibition was Children of Gaza (2013). Following the Israeli incursion in Gaza in December 2008, Anthony Dawton, Jim McFarlane and Giuseppe Aquili entered Gaza with the support of Save the Children to photograph what they saw. Inspired by the images, Dia Azzawi, the internationally known Iraqi artist, produced six original prints to accompany the exhibition. The resulting exhibition was one of the brightest moments in the history of contemporary art in Amman. All proceeds were given to Save the Children – Gaza.
With each exhibition, Jardaneh hopes that visitors experience new artistic dimensions. “Seeing these exhibitions broadens the viewer’s artistic understanding and level of appreciation,” she says. “In any society, when you enrich the recipient’s artistic experience, you not only broaden that individual’s sophistication, but rather help develop the country as a whole.”
After two decades, we still hold our breaths whenever a new exhibition is announced at Orient Gallery.