A View to Transcend Religious Borders

November 2, 2007

Author: Staff Writer

Source: The Australian


KHALID Khreis is an optimist. Sort of. The Jordanian artist and museum director is confidently talking up the power of art to transcend borders, promote understanding between cultures and allow potential enemies to see each other as dignified fellow humans worthy of respect, even admiration. Is he optimistic, then? He takes a moment to answer.

"Before eight years ago, yes," he says, then pauses. "At that moment we said, 'We will finish with this problem and everything will be OK.' Now, I don't know ..." He trails off, and sighs.

In 2000, the Arab-Israeli peace talks still seemed realistic. Israel pulled out of Lebanon. But later that year the second intifada ignited. Then came September 11, 2001, the invasion of Afghanistan, the war in Iraq.

Although Jordan is calm -- "Thank God," Khreis says, and the sentiment sounds heartfelt -- and is tolerant of the Christian and other non-Muslim faiths in its midst, the region around it roils. Jordan borders Israel, including the West Bank, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. There are one million Iraqi refugees in Amman. They are only the most recent arrivals: Palestinians make up more than half the Jordanian population.

When Israel invaded Lebanon earlier this year, the images of wounded children he saw on television drove Khreis back into his studio. He worked off his feelings for nights on end, producing a triptych which, he says, is very strong. "It was a need; I had to do something," he adds. These are hard times for a man whose main purpose in life these days is to promote peace between East and West.

Khreis was in Melbourne last week to open an exhibition from the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Art, where he is director general. The exhibition, called Breaking the Veils: Women Artists from the Islamic World, contains 68 art works by 51 artists working in 21 Islamic countries, from Indonesia to the United Arab Emirates, curated from the gallery's collection. Not all the women represented are Muslim -- there are also Christians, Hindus and Buddhists -- but all live in Muslim societies and Muslim culture has formed their world view.