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The sound of silence | Bis

Like Siamese twins, some countries are united at birth. Only this is not the intention of nature, but the intervention of a political/colonial power. India and Pakistan have been linked to each other since their independence. Similarly, Israel and its neighboring countries Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are closely linked due to the policies, planning and strategies of the UK Home Office.

In some cases, the control of European powers over the definition of a nation-state is as obvious as the lines of demarcation between the countries of North Africa – drawn on a drawing board, before engraving them on the real ground. .

Maria Waseem and Waseem Ahmed had to deal with such divisions. In the past, they have concentrated on the India-Pakistan border, from the hills of Kashmir to the plains of Punjab and the deserts of Sindh and Rajasthan.

The international borders of United Nations Member States are valid and precious lines, often so sacred that they are drawn, highlighted and reinforced with the blood of the soldiers who defend them. With some countries, the borders keep changing, so countries are expanding, contracting, stretching and shrinking. Cartography reveals that Pakistani territory expanded with the merger of several princely states. Then, in 1971, Bangladesh severed its ties with the western part of Pakistan. In the Middle East, new states emerged with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Since the creation of a Zionist state in 1948, the map of the Middle East has changed after each war between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Amos Oz, the Israeli author, once described the Israeli-Palestinian situation as a ransacked house, with a bedroom in one country and the kitchen in another, a garden in one state and a living room in another. The histories, cultures, languages, customs are also difficult to share between the peoples living across. Berlin before 1989 (divided into communist and capitalist parts) and Jerusalem (segregated into Jewish and Arab quarters) are examples.

The notion and structure of borders and their relationship to cities, peoples, their pasts, presents and futures intrigue MariaWaseem and Waseem Ahmed. The first, an architect and photographer by training, and the second, a miniature painter, collaborated to demolish the expectations, limits and conditions linked to their modes of expression. Maria uses her camera and Waseem her brush to create complex visuals that not only challenge the boundaries of these genres, but also question, critique and challenge the lines that embody barriers (political, religious and cultural).

For their body of recent work – a mixture of photography and miniature painting, and a combination of different eras – the two artists traveled to an ancient land that has witnessed many folds of Roman, Jewish and Arab. Their art does not merely provide documentation of the region or a record of historical monuments; but also a commentary on the state of human beings their common heritage; disputed land claims. Looking at their photographs and paintings, one remembers the Italian photographer and artist Luigi Ghirri, who soon “began to realize that reality was becoming more and more of a huge photo-montage photographer”.

Maria uses her camera and Waseem her brush to create complex visuals that not only challenge the boundaries of various genres, but also question, critique and challenge the lines that embody barriers (political, religious, cultural).

Collage, assemblage, montage are terms used to describe works by creative artists. We can classify the creations of Maria and Waseem in one of these categories. However, their joint venture cannot be tamed by typical nomenclature. They have succeeded – by keeping their independent visions, points of view and mediums – a dialogue between artistic forms, the flow of time and neighboring nations.

In their new series of works based on the borders of Israel and Jordan, Maria and Waseem have bridged differences and similarities, producing visuals in which history, politics and mundane reality converge; a place where past and present, differences of thought and faith and political positions exist. They generate a new entity.

Maria Waseem’s extensive research into the context of colonial/imperial beliefs and legacies is evident in her selection of viewpoints and locations, some of which have biblical references, such as the image of “Al-Maghtas officially known as the name of baptismal site…on the east bank of the Jordan River, believed to be the original place of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist”. The Roman columns, the old temples, the sculptures of Petra are loaded with historical connections/information but Maria Waseem chooses to represent a personal and sublime version of the world in front of her.

Thus, history and geography are unpacked through colors, light, textures, tones and a multiplicity of eras. His photographs are of ancient places, important places in Jordan near Israel, but essentially convey a way of embracing them in contemporary content.

We know there must be millions of snapshots of Amman, but seeing Maria’s photos of the city, we’re in awe of how the artist has captured the silence, the desolation – and the despair in The city. Views of the Jordan River, settlements near Israel’s border, the Dead Sea, from inside the Umayyad Palace to the Citadel of Amman, the heritage sites of Petra are transformed into unique imagery.

Waseem Ahmed continued this work of domestication of external reality through his artistic interventions on the photographs of Maria Waseem; for example, adding clean, controlled line drawings of Roman gods and goddesses in images of Roman ruins. He drew the image of Hercules with Cerberus atop the Temple of Hercules; and a linear rendering of Hypnos, the personification of sleep, hovering over an Amman sunset scene.

Most of their works relate to the narrative of faith. A man was drawn by Waseem about to take a bath on the bank of the Jordan (the site where Jesus was baptized). Maria took an expressive photo of the walls of Petra with the first and minimal attempts at idol-making. In a prominently reddish surface with elemental carvings of basic geometric/religious forms (Nabataean gods), Waseem Ahmed introduced prints of palm trees in red hue, referring to the custom of satisfied in India where widows leave their handprints on the walls of houses before setting themselves on fire as well as the prehistoric caves in which the unknown ancestors of modern man left their handprints next to their representation of animals.

Maria Waseem and Waseem Ahmed tackle the idea of ​​deviation, division, disparity (Palestinian refugee tents drawn by Waseem Ahmed on a spellbinding shot of the Dead Sea by Maria Waseem), but in essence their work traces a connection common human, beyond dividing like political borders, the classification of artistic techniques and the oppression of fleeting hours.

Their work negotiates with the silence of humans, history, politics, repression and segregation; he speaks beautifully, elegantly and eloquently.

(The Other Side of Silence exhibition ran from September 21 to October 5 at Dar Al-Anda Art Gallery, Amman, Jordan.)


The writer is an art critic based in Lahore.