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Photo collection offers ‘dialogue’ with region’s past

By Andrea López-Tomàs - Nov 23,2017 - Last updated at Nov 23,2017

The exhibition, titled ‘Remembrance: a dialogue with the past’, is on display at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts in Jabal Luweibdeh, running through December 14 (Photo courtesy of Kelvin Bown)

AMMAN — More than 30 photographs capturing the way of life in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan during the early 20th century are currently on display at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts.

Titled “Remembrance: a dialogue with the past”, the exhibition by British artist Kelvin Bown was inaugurated on Wednesday.  

The portraits of domestic life chosen by the artist seek to highlight the values of the past. 

“‘Remembrance’ aims to create a path for discussion and dialogue like the one which has been present in this region for thousands of years,” Bown, who is based in Jordan, said.

“We are living in an era when traditional values are getting lost; these pictures will make the attendees rethink about the way we are living today,” Bown told The Jordan Times during the exhibition. 

Some texts from regional tribal leaders and other significant figures Bown has in touch with are displayed, offering stories about a past told by elder leaders of the local communities. 

“All the answers to our actual problems can be found in the elderly,” Bown said, adding, “we tend to forget that people have been living in the same way for thousands of years and this small group of people..., are the ones who can help us go back to a more sustainable way of living.”

The community, a common faith, a deeper connection with nature and the responsibility to care of others are some of the values Bown is trying to express through these photographs. 

“Another [older gentleman] told me that, in the Holy City of Jerusalem, at the beginning of the 20th century, no one asked the other’s religion for fear of being seen as someone who would treat them differently,” one of the text hanging between a picture of Jaffa in the 1930s and a panoramic view of Amman in 1940 read. 

The inauguration also included one of Bown’s masterpieces: a recreation of the Dome of the Rock interior design. 

Based on the compilation of nine original negatives taken during 1900 and 1920 by the American Colony of Jerusalem, the creation took Bown more than 300 hours putting them together to create a high resolution image in which all the details could be appreciated. 

Bown worked around 10 to 14 hours a day to gather all the little pieces which put together the Dome’s interior mosaic. The colourful piece of Islamic architecture was finished in AD 691 and it took influences from Byzantine, Syrian, Persian, Hellenic and Roman art, he explained.  

The original pictures which Bown uses for his work are taken from libraries’ and families’ archives. 

“Our current way of living is not sustainable in long term; we are not aware of the dangers of the globalised psychology we are being imposed,” the artist warned, noting that “people used to live in peace and simplicity when the basic sense of community was based on an inherited faith”.


The exhibition, which will be run through December 14, is held under the patronage of HRH Princess Widjan, who attended the inauguration ceremony. 

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