Art and the Orient

    Mediator Between Orient and Occident

    Rayan Abdullah
    Rayan Abdullah
    Professor Rayan Abdullah

    Rayan Abdullah has lived in Germany for 27 years. A place at the Academy of Arts in Berlin took him to Germany from Mosul via Romania. Today, the native Iraqi says "I am a Prussian", and uses his knowledge of the different cultures to build bridges between the two. One important element of this is the DAAD exchange project "Hiwar fanni - Transart", which each year invites design students from Leipzig, Cairo, Damascus or Tripoli to take part in an exchange. This throws together all kinds of different people with all kinds of different experiences. Some have seen war and lost relatives and friends, while others have led a sheltered life in Germany.

    Mutual understanding as peacemaker

    Kunststudentin an der Deutschen Universität Kario"We want the students to get to know and understand one another." ?This happens during personal encounters and in projects like "The Dispute Between Word and Picture" which was initiated when the cartoon controversy flared up and caused an uproar. The exchange programme responded to this with a rational dialogue.

    "The students were supposed to examine why we in Europe view the images differently to people in the Orient. Why there is an unspoken ban on pictures in Islam, and why nothing like that exists in Europe. Why in Islam the written word and ornaments are a substitute for actual pictures, and why the belief prevails that the Holy Ghost cannot enter homes in which pictures hang on the walls." In addition, the students were encouraged to think about just what a picture actually is, why people can consider it right or wrong, and how wars change people's concepts of pictures. The participants hunted for answers in discussions and sketches. They argued with one another and then made up again, and created new shapes using letters, symbols and other elements, supporting and learning from each other.

    Different perceptions of photography

    The concept people in the Arab world have of design is quite different to that of people in the western world. In the Orient, people study fabric design, woodwork and ornamentation. Photography is not taught at all and, in terms of the way it is perceived, is the most strikingly different. The students are surprised every time by what their fellow students from the other culture choose to photograph. "We Europeans have an eye for the traces marking the passage of time, which is why we also photograph broken or apparently ugly things, yet find them beautiful", explains Rayan Abdullah. "An Oriental has a quite different concept of aesthetics and thinks this completely absurd. He would never photograph a vintage car, always giving preference to a shiny new one; he would not photograph the plain facades of Bauhaus architecture, but would choose a baroque castle. When he shows us around the town, he will take us straight to the newest department store, even though we would much prefer a visit to the bazaar."

    Pinning all hope on the younger generation

    Despite all these differences, the rigid boundaries have long since fallen away. "Television and cinema, and particularly the Internet, are incessantly bringing aesthetic perception and the Arab-Oriental and Western concepts of design closer and closer together. This does not mean that they no longer differ, but that people are aware of the influence each one has on the other." And this applies equally to Rayan Abdullah himself.

    "Hidden away inside me are still a few Oriental elements", he says of himself, "but otherwise I am German through and through." ?So German in fact, that he designed new "federal eagle" as part of his work for the company Meta Design. . Teasingly, he first suggested to the Federal Government using a German shepherd dog as an emblem, but then started studying books on ornithology and nature, and bought an annual season ticket for the zoo. The outcome was a leaner and more agile eagle who, unlike its predecessor, was given eyes for the first time - and can see, just like its creator.

    Battling the war of the cultures

    Besides his own agency projects, which among other things involve him helping German companies to establish themselves in the Arab world, one of the things closest to his heart is his work with the younger generation.

    "I believe that young people who are embarking on a future career as, for example, an artist or designer need to take their work very seriously. They can use their profession to make a stand against war", he explains. "There are wars in so many places around the world that we hardly notice them any more. This is why I simply can't stop appealing for people to fight for international understanding and peace." Posters can have a strong impact, and respect in words and images is necessary - as is, above all, education. This is why Rayan Abdullah is particularly proud to be the founding dean of the German University in Cairo. For him, knowledge is something which should be exported. "There are Canadian, American and French universities everywhere - we Germans also need to carry our knowledge to people around the world."

    For many years he has been working hard to set up a German university in his home town of Mosul. His most heartfelt wish is that the situation in Iraq will stabilize and that this university will become a reality and contribute to establishing peace. "Our cultures are different", says Rayan Abdullah, "yet I would never talk about a war of the cultures because there is no limit to the ways in which to coexist peacefully."

    Sabine Danek is a freelance journalist specialized in the areas of fine art and film in Hamburg.

    Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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