Painter blends heritage and modernity in art that embraces diversity

Birds of Jordan: local and visiting birds of the Kingdom. (Photos: Handouts from Dina Ishaqat)
In her search for identity, Diana Ishaqat, a development practitioner, researcher, and artist, brings to the table a goal: to mainstream and highlight Jordan’s diversity beyond purely folkloric forms. اضافة اعلان

Through a series of portraits and paintings done with different media — including coffee, which she said gives pieces a “local” edge — Ishaqat portrays different individuals who form Jordan’s social fabric. Whether Arab, Circassian, Chechen, Armenian, Kurd, or Bani Murra (a member of a local historically nomadic group), Ishaqat works to give people a space to be represented in visual spaces harmoniously.

“People crave representation, to see themselves reflected in public spaces beyond those of their homes and neighborhoods,” she believes. And she gives them that space.

The portraits may present the uniqueness of different heritages, but there is always a link that binds them all; most often, in her case, Jordan’s national bird, the Sinai rosefinch.

Diverse women from Jordan: a Circassian, a Bedouin, and an Armenian (left to right) with poppy flower crowns; a popular wild spring flora. 

Aware that, like her, many were unaware — “before this series, I did not even know there was a national bird” — Ishaqat decided to explore the subject and incorporate it into her art.

Ishaqat, who grew up in Bayder Wadi Al-Seer — a “working class, industrial area” — was inspired by the diversity of her own experience in the neighborhood.

“There were people from Sri Lanka to Russia,” she said, recalling how different languages could be heard all around.

“All of us shared. It was normal to interact with people who were really different.”

Reflecting this diversity, her works stir the interest of Jordanians and foreigners alike. Her pieces were sold as far away as the US, UK, Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Jordan. Most, however, were bought by “people in diaspora”, she said.

A woman who is part of a traveler community known as Bani Murra, with the gold symbols. 

Youths, in particular, have been most interested in Ishaqat’s work. She credits their interest exactly to the diversity her work presents.

“Diversity is not discussed in our education systems,” she said, adding that minorities “are mentioned twice in our curricula, without further information or details”.

“We know — hypothetically — that Circassians, Chechens, Armenians, Kurds, amongst others, live amongst us. But we know nothing beyond the fact that they are there,” she said.

This may create a sense of alienation amongst communities, said Ishaqat.
Art can help build self-esteem, can ground people to a place, and remind people of values that incorporate pride and belonging.
“Young people do not know how to approach questions about identity, since the unifying platform, the education system, did not provide the opportunity for them to explore (them).”

And that is where her art came to create an alternate place for open dialogue and attempts to find answers without restrictions.

Ishaqat’s paintings, with their granular texture, endeavor to portray tradition and heritage, but also to give way to modern lifestyle, which is more easily recognizable by younger viewers. This confluence gives her art a capturing edge.

Only when taking pride in the past can a society feel that it belongs, she believes.

“We like to think of heritage as a thing of the past, but people need it to feel grounded in the present,” she said.

Ishaqat is currently exploring the option of creating an online platform (through either a shop or a brand) to expand on the already existing brands that explore heritage by bridging the gap to modern times.

“I like to look at heritage as something evolving, reaching the present. Something that newer generations are building on,” she said.

Jordanians dressed in Arab clothes, painted in coffee together with the Sinai Rosefinch.

“We often hear people blame the youths for the loss of culture and identity,” she said, which is why her emphasis remains on finding new ways to incorporate things from the past, “especially those we never thought could be seen in a new light”.

Youth involvement in this form of representation is in response to the realities they have to experience and overcome, said Ishaqat, pointing to unemployment, and fewer chances of upper-social mobility, as two of the more intractable problems young people face nowadays. 

“It is difficult for young people to sit and reflect on bigger ideas like identity or climate, for example. … But if you are uncertain about what comes next and your reality is bleak and difficult to identify with, how do we expect the youth to participate?”

Art, is one way to go about it, she believes.

“Art can help build self-esteem, can ground people to a place, and remind people of values that incorporate pride and belonging.”

And youth want to interact with such spaces, she said.

Diana Ishaqat in an undated photo.

“Young people know what they are looking for.”

This artist should know; she is part of this age group, identifies with her peers, and strives to make it a better place for all.

“Art creates beauty and acceptance that is normally difficult to find in one place.”

This up-and-coming artist who has been painting for a long time exhibits her works on Instagram and Facebook @diiashkk.

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