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On This Land

Updated: Mar 1

In early Oct 2023, I arrived in Jordan on my way to launch a new - and my first - exhibition in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I had only been in town a few days when I received a voice message on my phone that said something like: ‘Hi. My name is Muna, I’m the co-owner of a restaurant-art gallery and a fan of your work, with one of your beautiful Arabian horse prints adorning my wall. I have a proposal for you, an art project. Can we meet to discuss it?’.


Naturally I was intrigued. But the meeting had to wait until I returned from Riyadh -  prints needed to be delivered for framing and I had a few final gallery meetings to finalise before the opening of the exhibition a fortnight later.


Unfortunately, the tragic events of Gaza suddenly exploded, bringing complete disruption to the region. Out of solidarity and respect with the suffering of the people of Gaza, and along with many other cultural events in the region, we too decided to postpone the Saudi exhibition until a more appropriate date.


I believe that, instead of standing on the sidelines, watching in despair, it is more valuable to work to raise spirits and hope, to bring light into the gloom if one can. So I met with Muna and Karmah, her business partner in their restaurant-art gallery. They told me of the ethos and philosophy of Jasmine House, that it is  not just a ‘restaurant-gallery’ business, but more a grass-roots community or movement of connecting people with the land, food production, organic farming and produce, of empowering local agricultural initiatives and so on. I was immediately interested. The values that they described coincided perfectly with mine.


So I embarked on a new project working closely with Muna and Karmah. For it to be an art project - as opposed to a commercial one, where the outcome is already predetermined - I needed to immerse myself in what I was hoping to touch on. I spent several days traveling around northern Jordan, from the heights of Umm Qais - overlooking Lake Tiberias, where Jordan meets Syria, Lebanon and Palestine -  to the rocky terrains around Irbid and Ajloun, though fertile valleys, and groves of thousands-years old olive trees, and down into the Jordan valley. I realised the depth of my own connection, as I traversed this ancient Biblical land. I spent time with farmers and their families harvesting olives and other produce, I sampled the exquisite white, creamy traditional cheeses made by the wife of a goat herder and I spent hours in the company of a passionate, natural bee-keeper.


From the harsh, mountainous terrains to the gentle tree-clad slopes and fertile valleys, from conversing with the farmers or listening to a lecture on how bee societal values might be applied to human ones, I felt something of a homecoming and a reconnection with this country. 


The impressions seeped into my soul, and allowed a certain visual narrative to gradually emerge. This was my homage to the land, the people who work it and the fruits of their labour.


It is fitting that my first solo exhibition in five years will be in Jordan and of this theme.


 


The Arabic word filaha means agricultural farming - the care of land for crops and the raising of livestock. It also means to prosper. From the minaret of the mosque we hear the call “hayya ‘alal falah” (come to salvation, to success), establishing a connection between our physical and spiritual well-being.


The Arabs have a long history in agriculture, dating back to 1000 BCE, when farmers in what is now Yemen were skilfully terracing rain-fed mountain slopes and building sophisticated irrigation systems. The ancient Greeks and the Romans referred to the region as ‘flourishing Arabia’, on account of the abundance of its crops and livestock. The emergence and spread of Islam in the 7th century CE brought the knowledge of farmers of the levant to other countries along the Mediterranean coast, notably Spain. Between the 10th - 14th centuries, the Muslims of al-Andalus developed the most advanced agricultural systems ever known. They were experts of caring for the soil through advanced water management and irrigation systems and utilising natural, organic fertilisers, of cultivating flourishing orchards and vegetable gardens, and of breeding the finest strains of livestock and horses.



Al-Filaha is the foundation of civilisation. All food and sustenance derives from it, including the essential benefits and blessings that life brings”, Ibn ‘Abdūn, c.1147, Ishbiliya, al-Andalus


This body of photographic prints was produced for Jasmine House where the relationship between food, nourishment and wellbeing is appreciated. The Greek philosopher Hippocrates wrote, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food”. Our ancestors understood this well and practiced it consuming locally-sourced, seasonal, organic produce. Jasmine House proudly continues with this tradition, seeking to spread such knowledge and wisdom.




The photographic prints show us hands of farmers, agricultural produce, ancient landscapes of Jordan  - home to 1000s of wild herbs and flowers with scatterings of cultivated orchards and fields, and roaming flocks of grazing animals. Pollinating bees and other insects are there too, but largely unseen. All of it, including us, are woven into the tapestry of life. 




In an age of increasing health concerns, we need to re-examine our relationship with the environment. Toxic chemicals, that poison us, the soil, the pollinating insects, the flora and fauna, cannot sustain life. To be respectful guardians we might listen to the wisdom of nature. 


In the words of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, “we have on this land that which makes life worth living”.


(See the full gallery of photographic images here)


Tariq Dajani, 2024



Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Muna Haddad and Karmah Tabbaa of Jasmine House, the staff of Beit al-Baraka, Umm Qais, and Mujeb Organic Farm for their vision, inspiration and support. Thanks also to Lana Nasser for her poetry and musings, especially those to do with bees.



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