Past Exhibitions

Ahmad Canaan and Islamic Art

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi and Sharon Laor-Sirak

Curator: Shir Meller-Yamaguchi and Sharon Laor-Sirak

1/2012 – 10/2013
Ahmad Canaan and Islamic Art

The repetitive pattern is the central motif connecting the works of Ahmad Canaan and the museum’s collection of Islamic art, but the exhibition in fact highlights the contrast between the traditional role of Islamic artists, namely to create art that can please the eye and represent the union in diversity, and their present role, which is to reflect and represent personal and national identity. Canaan acts out of his cultural tradition but also challenges its customary conventions.

For him, the repetitive pattern is not merely another decorative ornament but rather a motif loaded with meaning. Canaan creates the repetitive pattern out of the image of the horseman – a central motif in his creation, symbolising the heroism of the Arab Nation. The many horseman figures sheared off a metal board are like an absent army, and it is sometimes the cluster that makes up the leader’s figure.
This image becomes a pattern inside a latticework (Mashrabiya in Arabic). The mashrabiya is a partition made of concrete or wood, intended to separate the inside from the outside using decorative openings, through which one can see but remain invisible. Through Knaan’s metal mashrabiya, painful scenes, taken from events in Rafah and Jenin, are partially revealed painted on the partly concealed back side. The game between the two surfaces – front and aft, displays a distorted sight. The patterns, which deviate from their mere ornamental role, present questions concerning the relation between theme and background, what’s hidden behind and what’s displayed at the front.

In traditional art no separation existed between theme and background and figurative painting was forbidden. Canaan chooses to use a cut-out of the self-repeating horseman motif for painting the figure of the refugee, depicted from the back as he is moving away, holding bundles in his hands. This figure has become the polar figure to the horseman in Canaan’s world of images. Both these images represent two pictures of reality, co-existing parallel to each other.

The repetitive motif finds a different expression in a series of works making use of decorative tiles. In the work – “I have been scattered” – Canaan inlays fractions of decorated traditional tiles in a wooden board notched by scratches. This way it is possible to recollect the memory of the home, tradition and culture. In another work with a chest coated with mirrors, the tiles and the pattern are duplicated infinitely. Canaan uses multitude and repetitiveness typical of Islamic art, yet focuses his saying so as to make it relevant for his dual life reality as an Arab artist in Israeli society.

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi