BOATS, BURDENS AND FAITH . Wijdan Fawaz al-Hashemi
Maysaloun Faraj is full of life with that eternally young smile in her eyes. Her early ceramics reflect the jois de vivre that she emanates: smooth surfaces, lines that seem to go on forever, fragments of Arabic letters and words. However, time brings pain into Faraj’s life.Her people who for decades have been suffering continue to suffer even more. A woman of two worlds, East and West, she is also a citizen of her two worlds. Yet there is no dichotomy in her life. In both her ceramics and paintings she takes refuge from the destruction, desolation and ravages that she feels her people and country are experiencing as well as from her own pain. Her clay surfaces loose their smoothness and the incisions in the ones that remain smooth and glazed, betray the sharp knife wounds that inflict her medium. At times gold covers parts of her work, signifying a rich heritage and optimism.
However, when we seldom get a surface that is all white it is also rough yet promising. Faraj’s latest ceramic project, which forms part of this exhibition, is based on Asma Allah al-Hussna and combines influences from the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Islam. With this she constructs 99 cylinder seals each of which is inscribed with one of the names of Allah. These she further employs in the making of more complex constructions that eventually incorporate all the 99 Names. Using this ancient technique she creates modern ceramics informed not only by her faith, but also evoking a deep sense of history inspired by that of the ancient and rich civilizations of her native Iraq.
In her latest ceramic work entitled Boats and Burdens (a selection of which has recently been acquired for the collections of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts) Faraj largely incorporates the use of these cylinder seals, unleashing her response ‘in clay’ to the war on Iraq. The colors that Faraj denies her ceramics she lavishes on her paintings with an optimism that covers her canvases as if to compensate for the gravity and seriousness of her three dimensional works. Like the hopefulness and youth that emanate from her eyes, smile and gait, her art depicts anticipation and a deep faith in a universal goodness for the present that would lead to a better future. A highly skilled potter and sensitive painter, Faraj is an Arab artist whose culture is proud to have her build its future.
HRH Princess Dr Wijdan al-Hashemi is artist, Islamic art historian, curator and diplomat, also author of Modern Islamic Art: Development & Continuity (1997), What is Islamic Art (1998) and The Arab Contribution to Islamic Art (1999). Al-Hashemi was the curator of Contemporary Art from the Islamic World, Barbican Centre, London (1989), is the President and founder of the Royal Society of Fine Arts (1979) and the National Gallery of Fine Arts (1980) Amman, Jordan and is currently the Jordanian Ambassador to Italy.
 Asma Allah al-Husna are the 99 Names of God as referred to in the Holy Quran. The first Names are Al-Rahman, Al-Rahim (The Merciful, The Compassionate)
 Earliest form of print making invented in Mesopotamia 5000 years BC; a mirror image is engraved into a stone or clay cylinder. Once fired, the cylinder seal can be rolled out onto clay surfaces to achieve specific motifs in relief quickly and effectively.