Through his compositions, visual artist Khaldoun Hijazin exposes dense webs of allusion. His works on canvas negotiate systems of power and ideologies, particularly relating to the Arab world, approached through the artist’s own blend of dark humour. The son of a comedian and key progenitor of social and political theatre in Jordan, Hijazin’s choice of subject matter demonstrates a preoccupation with the dynamics of representation and the hierarchies of the visible.
When he’s not producing art or working towards his PhD Hijazin spends his days at the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts where he holds the position of Director of Art and Cultural Programs. Now, we step into the studio of the Amman-based creative to discover the ways that inspirations as varied as political theatre, baroque and critical theory contribute to his art.
KH: My name is Khaldoun Hijazin, I'm a Jordanian painter who is interested in digging through the stretch of social and political phenomena throughout history. I approach these areas of interest both as a citizen of our globalised world and simultaneously as a subject of the ideologies and power structures that have long shaped the Arab world.
KH: As an artist, my work is highly informed and inspired by film, literature, critical theory and of course the vast tradition of representational painting, these forms for me stand as a lens through which historical and contemporary conditions are examined and challenged. These themes are channelled in my work mainly through representational painting and oftentimes 3-dimensional objects.
KH: I grew up with a mother who worked at the Jordan Folklore Museum in Amman and a father who was a celebrated comedian and progenitor of social and political theatre in Jordan. I would spend my early childhood days wandering and engaging with the museum displays where my mom worked, and from there I developed a great sensibility to the beauty of figurative tableaus - they kept casting themselves anew every time I encountered them.
KH: In the evenings my siblings and I would usually hangout at the theatre and cinema where my father performed his plays every day. There I developed a profound understanding of the value of comedy and satire in social and political life. My wanderings between the front and back of the stage gave me an understanding of the inner and outer dynamics of representation, but more critically I saw how happenings have a dichotomy of a hidden and a visible side.
KH: My upbringing naturally made me a person with a high sensibility for art and storytelling. As a child, I started to channel my world through drawing and painting until I landed in art school where I discovered more of the magic and charm of art. I guess that accumulation explains my obsession with the qualities of Baroque and Realism painting, and the creative and contemplative possibilities of representation in general.
KH: Cultural and artistic discourse has always been a nourishing and exciting place for me to feed my personal and intellectual interests. Since I was a child I have seen art as one of the highest forms of human activity, therefore artmaking for me becomes a chance to be in dialogue with some of the most interesting artists and thinkers who dwelled in this field. It is a very empowering thing to be working in this enigmatic creative realm, where ideas are transmitted into material aesthetic form, not only that but it is also very rewarding to see my art speaking to others and becoming a place for playful yet meaningful reflection and conversation.
KH: My work stems from an urge to express and make visible my observations, ambivalent thoughts, and precarious hopes about the state of affairs of our world today. My natural tendency as a painter who is influenced by Baroque painting is to create theatrically satirical tableaus that evoke, with their dark humour, the ironies and dualities between what is made visible and what is kept hidden in our world; what is said on one front and what is done on the other. It’s work that also taps into the tendencies we, as citizens, have to fall into ideological delusions and our entrenched temptation to gain status, power and self-benefit regardless of the toll it takes on others.
KH: Themes that are often seen as the ‘big elephant in the room’ recur in my compositions. Colonial legacies, governance, exploitation, and the play and fantasies found in class roles tend to predominate my work. Despite the great regard I give these themes, the primacy while in the studio is given to composing visually compelling work. Seeing a painting or an object working formally gives me the greatest satisfaction. I don’t, however, feel that this is enough until the form and content of my work are finely intertwined.
KH: I spend a lot of time looking through film and archival images, historical material and texts by thinkers and philosophers, from these excavations I usually stumble upon content that calls me to intervene and reappropriate it with my own sense of narration and humorous reinterpretation; through sketching and juxtaposing I start turning these found fragments into new dramatic scenes and constellations that are charged with the gestures and dilemmas of power and class.
KH: My painting technique falls between representation and abstraction, control and chance. My realistic yet swift painterly depiction of material appearances is usually coupled with my playful exploration of the different ways paint can register on the picture plane, through washing, pouring, dripping, and sweeping on the floor-layed canvas, I seek the possibilities of paint and colour fields to capture something of the impalpable forces - seeking by that to evoke the moods that imbue the air of a certain moment.
KH: My latest commission was, in part, a continuation of my previous series where I depict objects shattered on the floor in the midst of an event. The project presented the perfect opportunity for me to push scale and style variation in my pictorial strategies as never before.
KH: A 5 meters wide piece entitled Shattered Illusions: Royal Court (2022) reveals a host of royal figures and their military guards together at a party in a fictional palace where the catastrophic collapse of a huge chandelier just tainted the event. Entitled For Whom the Bell Tolls (2022), twin 3.5 meters canvases depict a line-up of two army leagues across each other on each side of the canvas, one piece reveals a battleground splattered with a crushed pomegranate barrel, while the other piece is smooshed in the middle with a celebratory 5-tier strawberry cake.
KH: The remaining two canvases are oil and archival printings on canvas, and are entitled The Sacraments and Spoils of a People's Land (2022). These were composed as a pair, each of them portraying a single life-sized figure that appears posed as a glass-topped plinth, mounting symbols of triumph, excess and sacrifice. The piece on the left shows a lady dressed in high society French fashion with a creamy raspberry cake placed on top, foregrounding an archival 19th-century French map of the Arab region. The other canvas on the right features a man in British military attire dating back to the time of British mandate in the Middle East topped with a still-life of the Eucharist elements of wine and bread, also backdropped with an archival Ottoman map of the Levant region with a fading scene of the Holy Land by the British orientalist painter David Roberts.
KH: I hope that went encountering such works the viewer enjoys an enriching visual and satirical experience, one that invites humour, reflection and open interpretation. I hope to raise the questions: what kind of world do we live in today and how might we be socially and politically implicated in it?
KH: I’m currently working on a new body of work that deals with and magnifies the comedy, awkwardness and roleplaying found in the interactions that occur between the rich and the labour classes. It’s somewhat like a social experiment in painting, informed by critical and sociological studies, works of literature and neo-Marxist theory. I’m also experimenting with my painting technique, pushing my pictorial tableaus into spontaneous compositions, and employing a more fluid handling of paint and colour. The exhibition of this work will take place with Tabari Artspace in Cromwell Place, London, in October 2023.