Interview with Princess Wijdan Ali

Her highness, Wijdan Ali is an art historian, a painter, a sculptor, an art curator and a former diplomat. She holds a pHD in Islamic Art from SOAS university in London, and is the author of 8 books and many articles on traditional and contemporary art. She is the founder of the Royal Society of Fine Arts in 1979 and the National Gallery of Fine Arts in Jordan in 1980. Wijdan held 30 solo exhibitions and her work has been shown in a large number of group exhibitions around the world.

Alia: How would you describe your journey to becoming the artist you are today?

Wijdan: First of all I don’t think I am such an important artist today, there are so many new names and talents that have appeared in the art scene. Maybe had I continued working on my art from the very beginning until now, I would have achieved more in that field. But I diverted into the history of art, writing art criticism, building the Jordan National Gallery.

Wijdan: To create the national gallery was very challenging. Let alone being the first art museum in the Arab and Islamic world. It is the only one that collects works from the third world. We don’t go after big names. Instead of buying one work by a British artist, I buy ten works by ten artists from the Islamic or Arab world. And this is what makes us different as the National gallery compared to other collections. We collect from Brunei to Egypt to Africa. This is important because anyone who has enough money can buy one work from a Western artist. I would pay the same amount to get 20 works by contemporary Arab artists.

Wijdan: To me, it means a lot because it is a point of connection. The gallery here has collected art from the third world. I don’t want to neglect the base of contemporary arts in our part of the world. For example, artists like Saliba Douaihy, who passed away now, had I not been persistent and gone after him to his studio in Paris to get one of his works, it would have been absent from this collection. I have also collected from artists not so well known but were important in building the art movement in their own countries. For example Baya in Algeria. She was an illiterate young lady whom Picasso took under his wing and supported. To me, these artists are very important. The first generation. like in Egypt Ragheb Ayad, Hussein Bicar, most of these I went to their studio. In Sudan, no one was going when I went. And honestly, I’ve never met people like the Sudanese, they are so generous with their time, their art, and their knowledge. He will tell me “choose whatever you want, and take it!”. I think I had a very enriching experience.

What is the importance of love as a theme in your work?

Love needs no explanation, whatsoever. We have all been in love. It’s there it’s all around us. You have to find it. Not looking for it even. Love looks for us, and enters our lives as a surprise, sometimes! I believe in everything beautiful and love is the most sublime, and the most beautiful emotion in the world. If you read the Sufi books and poetry, whether in Arabic or in English, you see that love is really the sublime emotion that unites people. It never goes between them. You never find hatred out of love. Love overwhelms you, it overwhelms me.

How do you show love in your work or how is it present in your process?

I can tell you I live in a perpetual state of love. Love of my children, love of nature, love of beauty. Love of the world. To me, love surrounds me everywhere. Without love, my life would be useless. I don’t find love, love finds me. Whether it is with my grandchildren, their friends. I think love is such a gift from God to all of us that we should work on it and keep it in our lives. There is nothing more beautiful than having love in your life.

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