Iraqi artists in Jordan helping young talents blossom

Iraqi artist Imad Khalidi.

Natalie Nahhas was 6 when she discovered her capacity to draw beautiful sketches, an aptitude she developed with the support and encouragement of her family. Today, at 14, she is learning to paint with the guidance of an award-winning Iraqi painter keen on investing in young and promising Jordanian talents.
Baqer al-Shaikh is among Iraqi artists who fled violence at home and are now in Amman guiding young Jordanians who can tell a story with a stroke of a brush and manipulate the forces of light to bring their vision into life, as he says.
“It is a 2-way course in the sense that I can get inspiration from young students, who I prefer to call artists, and at the same time they can learn how to create ubiquitous sets of lines that are transformed into a beautiful piece of art whether it symbolises their own vision or the vision of others,” Shaikh said.
“I believe that all children have a unique talent and working with them makes it easier to discover their inner self. They have a lot of imagination that tells so much about their personality and this is what we lack in the Arab world, the opportunity to express ourselves.”
Shaikh, the recipient of several awards, including Al-Wasti Festival of Baghdad Award and the 2008 Ashtar Festival Award of the Iraqi Artists Association, teaches art at the Mariam Centre for Arts and Crafts in Amman. He said there are not enough art facilities in the Arab world to accommodate the talents of Arab children.
“The centre I work for was established in 2008 by passionate Jordanian artists and since then it has developed the talents of many children but we need more centres and schools because art is a sign of culture and we are a society who has a deep culture,” he said.
Shaikh said working closely with inspired children gives him the ultimate satisfaction and the motivation to transfer what he has learned during his career “to those who discovered their talent holding a brush and not a musical instrument or a tennis racket or a football.”
“Painting and tennis, for example, have so much in common but the creativity is different in both. Winning is needed in a tennis match but in art you always come in the second place and your painting or work takes the top spot at the podium,” he said.
“What I teach students here is to express their feelings while painting. For me, painting is an expression of a feeling that transcends past light and dark brushstrokes.”
Students said they had learned a lot from Shaikh’s classes at the centre. “By giving us the freedom to express and learn and by allowing our imagination to run wild, we are learning so much and this is what we need as we love to paint and we love to express,” Nahhas said.
Another Iraqi artist, Imad Khalidi, who is married to a Jordanian and settled in Amman in 1997, happily shared his artistic talent with Jordanian youth.
“Several years ago, there were hundreds of Iraqi artists in Jordan who had fled the war in Iraq but then sought asylum in Europe. Today there are fewer than 20 who decided like me to stay and share their art,” said Khalidi.
“Many Jordanian families are interested in art and decide to enroll their children in art classes. We have many students who have the right talent to become professional artists but the economic factors and financial situation of their parents can be an obstacle,” he added.
Khalidi, who teaches art in several schools and universities, observed that, unlike Jordan, Iraq embraced art a long time ago.
“In Iraq, it is easy to find a simple employee with a simple salary paying for a painting he saw in the market because art is in the blood. In my opinion, there should be more interest in young talents in Arab countries,” he said, noting that marking World Art Day, celebrated April 15, could be a vector for raising awareness about the importance of promoting children’s artistic talents in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, at the art centre, as Nahhas holds her brush with confidence gazing at the plain white, stretched canvas, she closed her eyes to imagine what to paint and how to bring her thoughts to life.
Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.