Interview with Mohanna Durra

Mohanna Durra is a Jordanian painter widely regarded as a pioneer of the Jordanian Arts Movement and for being the first to introduce Cubism and Abstract art into the Jordanian visual arts community. He is a professor at the Faculty of Fine Art and Design at University of Jordan and serves as the President of the Jordan Association of Fine Arts.

Alia: What is your hope in life?

Mohanna: I mean my hope in life is to be able to know how much I don’t know. It is the same thing in painting, it’s a sea, it’s an ocean. You keep on having the pleasure of discovering things in life — but that comes with work.

Alia: How did being a diplomat in Italy impact your perspective?

Mohanna: Being a diplomat gave me the opportunity to travel and become exposed to different cultures. I mean to be sitting in a concert house listening to Rachmaninoff, which is really the soul of Russia, that was really great. Or go to Rome and it’s enough to walk on the streets of Rome to know the architect, Borromini — the monuments, fountains, buildings and cathedrals. You see, all these things enriched me!

Alia: Where do you find your inspiration in Jordan?

Mohanna: We don’t have the colosseum and the Santa Maria delle Grazie. So what should we do? I say go back to nature. I mean, take a rose, take a flower, look at it. Worship it. Like the Japanese who take a flower, and maybe sit for hours looking at it. There’s so much you can learn from it. The shadows, the colors, the composition, the smell — the whole thing.

Nature like Leonardo da Vinci said, is the Maestro, it is the master.

Mohanna Durra

Alia: How would you describe your experience as a Jordanian artist?

Mohanna: An artist has to be vulnerable, I mean he must feel the wind, he must feel the breeze, the smell of the flower. He must feel sadness, happiness, and so on. So an artist is not a stone, he is not a wall.

As young boys we were told that ‘you are a man, you shouldn’t cry’. No, you can cry, you can weep. Be vulnerable. Be like a tree in the wind.

Alia: Can you describe you artistic journey?

Mohanna: I started doing this, the bedouins and desert scenes and things like that until I started gradually to distort the bedouin. We actually lack a courage. We are not courageous people. That courage that made Christopher Columbus to discover America, that was a great adventure. Had Picasso no courage, he wouldn’t have been able to put the nose instead of the ear and so on. He wouldn’t have come out of the box.

Alia: Do you remember a specific point in your career when you were courageous or started to become courageous?

Mohanna: I was drinking then. I really started drinking. and that type of drinking gave me courage. But please don’t think that anyone who wants to come out of the box needs to drink. But real life is so frustrating. I felt cornered and stupid enough thinking that if I have a drink I’d feel better. I have examples of paintings I had done when I was drunk. and I couldn’t do them again but I kept looking at them and their energy.

Alia: How was the public response to your paintings in the past?

Mohanna: The public didn’t understand anything except for the bedouin portraits. It’s not that there’s something wrong with bedouin portraits. There’s nothing wrong. It is not the subject it’s how you handle the subject. Art is not an exact science. Therefore, there are no references. But, yes if we talk about classical art we can reference classical statues. With contemporary art you are painting with emotions.

Alia: When you’re painting are you almost shocked with the outcome, or do you have a clear idea in mind of what it is you want to paint?

Mohanna: You have an idea. But you don’t already draw the picture in mind. You have an idea of what you are maybe doing. When you work it’s a process, it continues. Sometimes there’s an accident while you are painting. You need to seize the accident. The painting evolves while you are painting —it changes. That change wasn’t in your mind, so you paint, to which end you don’t know. As Picasso says, your work develops while you are painting, and continues to do so even when it is hung on a wall. When you look at a painting it never stops changing.

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