By J. Taylor Basker
Drones shot down by hostile powers, captures of tankers, divisive politics, threats of nuclear war, sanctions, kidnapping, bombs, beheadings—this is what we hear about the Middle East as Islamophobia in Europe and the U.S. grows. Yet, in Amman, Jordan this visiting Greenwich Village artist discovered a radically different situation.
I was invited to participate in the Cairo Amman Bank Art Symposium (CAB) by Mohammad Jaloos—artist and director of the CAB Gallery—the wizard who conjured this successful event with its amazing mix of diverse and talented artists from around the world.
Artist symposia are popular outside of the U.S. These events consist of approximately twenty artists who are invited by a patron—either government or private—to spend a week or longer painting together. Travel and living expenses are provided, as well as canvases, brushes and paint. The artists paint together all day, and dine and party at night. They are often toured to heritage sites in the area, meet local and international dignitaries, and receive good media coverage. The patron keeps one painting, which is shown in the closing exhibition; the artists keep the others. The symposium offers a magical experience, an island of creativity and dialogue among diverse people in an increasingly fractured world. It proves that art can not only reach the soul, but unites people divided in the world of politics.
What struck me was how different these attitudes were from those of most American artists, who often work in isolation, and jealously guard their techniques and style. Individualism, rather than a communal perspective, is the norm. When there are cliques of artists, they are often closed and exclusive. Yet the artists at the symposium were open and bonded closely, forming a support family that continued after the symposium ended.
Although I live in Westbeth, an artists’ community, I had never experienced such warmth, sharing and support from fellow artists as I did at the symposium. As a result, I painted one of my best pictures, titled “Ghosts of Palestine.” In the communal spirit of experimentation, I prayed and began dripping paint freely on the canvas and ended up with eerie imagery including faces emerging from blood red paint at the top and a dark line that was a mistake that occurred when the wind blew over my canvas. I turned the line into a chain leading to a small collaged photo of an Israeli bulldozer demolishing buildings in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar.