The power of the aesthetic
Suha Lallas, owner of the Wadi Finan Art Gallery in Amman, Jordan, shares her thoughts on why a painting must speak to the heart if it’s going to enhance your wall
What was the motivation for launching the Wadi Finan Art Gallery?
I’d developed a passion for art from an early age, thanks to my parents who inspired me in different ways. My father was a huge fan of photography, bringing his photos to life in his own dark room, while my mother was very artistic and loved to do crafts. She was also an avid art collector and built up a beautiful collection of paintings. I began painting as a child, with their encouragement, and decided to study art, after which I became both an art teacher and examiner. Although I adored teaching, I had always dreamt of opening a gallery that would promote modern and contemporary Jordanian and Arab artists locally, while also raising their profile abroad. To my delight, I was able to achieve that dream in 2008, when I opened the Wadi Finan Gallery. The gallery began life at a small space in a beautiful neighbourhood of old Amman known for its cultural aspect. However, as we became busier, we moved to bigger premises and increased the size of the team, expanding along the way.
What do you think the gallery brings to the regional art and culture conversation?
Our aim has always been to whet the appetite for beautiful contemporary Middle Eastern visual art, while generating greater interest in what’s happening on the regional art scene. There are many ways in which we work to meet our objectives, from raising the profile of local artists by supporting their participation at regional and international art fairs to organising our own shows. We also feel strongly that an art gallery should be an integral part of the community rather than isolated from it, so make it a priority to organise collaborative events, like festivals, workshops and charity initiatives.
My philosophy has long been that art is a universal language, without barriers, and I believe you can see evidence of this in the way that talented artists from across the region - Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Egypt, for example, are held in the same high esteem by collectors. Buyers look first and foremost for a work that has an aesthetic appeal and touches them deeply.
What advice do you have for fledgling collectors?
I always say to collectors, even seasoned ones, that a piece of art must speak to you from the heart, so there has to be an element of personal taste involved. Of course, there’s a high probability that a really good work will bring together a combination of successful principles, balancing quality with visual attractiveness. As you become more experienced, it’s easier to spot the potential in a piece of art and knowledge gained over time will influence decision-making, but you still first need to fall in love with what you’re looking at!
What impact do you think regional uncertainty and conflict has had on the subjects chosen by contemporary artists?
Artists have always expressed their feelings and their mood through their work, using their art as a vehicle to comment on what’s happening in the world, whether it’s environmental issues, conflict or the current Covid-19 pandemic. However, while the region is having to deal with a great many challenges right now, I’ve noticed that several artists we feature are choosing instead to focus on the aesthetic elements in their work, opting for fresh, vibrant colours and creating an uplifting mood. Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism for what’s going on in the world or maybe it’s a backlash against so much doom and gloom, and suffering. Of course, there are artists who are keen to document the very real problems that exist and the region’s rich culture and history have long been referenced in the art created here, but I think that optimism, too, is featuring strongly right now.
How has the gallery adapted to accommodate the impact of Covid-19 and are you expecting the adjustments you’re making to change your way of working longer term?
I’ve always been an optimistic person by nature, but there’s no doubt that the coronavirus has changed the art world, like so many industries, and that some of the adjustments will have longer-term implications. Social distancing makes it challenging to hold public exhibitions, for example, so we need to consider creating different systems, such as private and scheduled viewings with a limited number of people. Technology will undoubtedly play a bigger role in the way art galleries operate, prompting us all to innovate and upgrade our systems so that we can easily reach clients remotely. Social media has a key part to play in this respect. Virtual shows and online fairs are also on the increase. On the positive side, many people have spent more time at home during lockdown and found themselves deciding to enhance their surroundings, including fixing their walls with some new art! This serves as a welcome reminder that art can give us a real lift when we’re down – we should never underestimate its therapeutic value.