JO Magazine | The Eyes of Elmer Dumlao
February 23, 2010
A Filipino artists transforms his time in Jordan into surprising and unique take on the country's history, lifestyle and natural beauty.
Words by John Lillywhite.
“WHEN I FIRST CAME to Jordan, I thought it was only barren desert,” said Filipino artist Elmer Dumlao, in an interview on the ZaraInvestment YouTube channel. “I ended up staying for 15 years, and realized it was a very beautiful country.”
The result of those fifteen years is one of the more striking new exhibitions we've seen from a newcomer (to Jordan, at least), which celebrates the country's history and culture without appearing too forced. The most interesting piece, “Mighty History,” features a sword cutting through the mountains of Karak. The sword itself is decorated with scenes from the crusades: Templar Knights and Salah Ad Din on horseback. The piece itself was actually a short history, recounting the story of the fortress's capture by the Ayyubid Caliph's armies in 1189.
Other pieces built on this sense of an epic, somewhat glamorous past: “Mystique,” featured the treasury flanked by a rider on horseback, “Empire,” reflected Jerash during the time of the Romans. None of this subject matter is new, of course, but Dumlao executes it with a panache and freshness that sets it above the mass of art celebrating Jordan's glorious past.
For example, all of the pieces were mixed-media on wood, and included various non-traditional elements: “Hospitality” featured a lock and door knocker actually affixed to the composition, “Empire” a bust of Caesar and “Spring Field” some dried out flowers. Somehow this technique managed to work without appearing gimmicky. (With perhaps the exception of “Generations,” where colored tiles and a CD surrounded a baby's face; it was the only piece that struck us as propagandistic, with its depictions of smiling rustics and grazing sheep.)
The exhibition wasn't only a look back. “Youthful Dream” featured a boy flying his kite from the Amman Citadel; the impressionistic nightscape of the city set below suggested unease about the Jordan of today versus that of yesteryear. The tabula rasa in the middle of the piece may be a suggestion of how much of Amman has yet to take form.
Jordan Through the Eyes of Elmer Dumlao took place at Zara Gallery under the patronage of HRH Princess Rym, and closed on February 22.