To Mohanna Durra

25 Jan 2021

So many times, I called him for ideas, for support, for something or other; and every single time he was there.

“My children love art, but they are small…”. “Send them to me!” was his unequivocal, immediate reply.

We needed support for the Jordan Media Institute’s (JMI) fundraiser: Mohanna, generous with his art as he was with his time, donated a painting, thereby making it possible for a student to earn a master’s degree in Journalism and New Media, and for JMI to purchase much needed equipment.

We were putting together Jordan’s Amman International Film Festival - Awal Film (AIFF), last year, and were keen to have an award that truly represents Jordan, made by a Jordanian artist, a pioneer. We turned to him. He protested a little at first: “I don’t know how to make these things”; and then: “I don’t know how to draw black irises!” His genuine modesty was humbling.

For the AIFF, Mohanna designed the most beautiful Black Iris trophy in bronze. One that looked as though it had come out of a dream: our national flower with purified lines, blooming, as it does for three weeks in the spring. One that sprung to life, so that just looking at it felt inspiring and seemed to be filled with light. One that we could not be more proud to hand over to filmmakers, who received awards for their first films at the first edition of the AIFF last August.  

Mohanna Durra was indeed a pioneer in everything he did, not only in the Jordanian arts movement. 

I could list his amazing artistic achievements, which most of you already know: how he developed art in our country, with the foundation in 1970 of the Institute for Fine Arts; how he introduced abstract painting and cubism; and how his life’s work, exhibited in a retrospective at the National Gallery of Fine Arts just a couple of years ago to mark his 80th birthday, was rich: from his early portraits of Bedouin men and women, some of which appeared in postage stamps, to the abstract phase, works that when you looked closer were abstract, but with depth and texture that were, as he liked to call them, “symphonies of colours”. Not to mention his clowns: he seemed to have given life to them so they could be present, everywhere around him. I asked him about them and he simply said he liked clowns because he felt they represented the fun but also the tragic side of humans.

I could talk about what he learned from Moscow and Rome and everywhere in between, and which in reality seemed to be mainly reflections of all he had to offer from within. How he expressed that knowledge, that love for culture, and the depth within him, through his paintings. How he developed art in our country, and how he taught so many of our wonderful artists. How he served his country not just as an artist but also as an ambassador.

You will read about all that in the news, on the internet, his achievements are everywhere, even in the corridors of the military hospital, to which he not only donated several masterpieces but restored them for free, so that patients walking in would be surrounded by something more elevating than plain hospital walls.

Like so many of you who knew him, I am sad, and heartbroken. I am sad for his family, for the loss he represents to our country, to our institutions, to our family, to my husband and children and me personally.

When I think about his role in our country -and beyond- I see a man larger than life, who persisted to give all that he had to promote art and culture, beyond his own works of art that were in themselves a testimony to his depth and universal knowledge.

It is almost overwhelming to think of what we as a nation were privileged to have in such a giant of an artist.

But I fear I would never be able to do justice to all he achieved and all that he was to so many people. So I will focus on remembering the human being, the unconventional man, who told the most beautiful, funny, moving stories, with the most gentle voice in Arabic, in English, in Russian, in Italian. 

And I say to him, thank you Mohanna, for enriching all of our lives, as individuals and as a country.


Rym Ali

JMI Founder
AIFF President