Meg Abu Hamdan, 1986
The first time I saw samer tabbaa’s stones – a word that suits his work far more than the word ‘sculpture’ – was back in 1980. I had recently come to Amman fresh from the wonders of the London galleries and now here I was in Jordan in its newly opened National Gallery seeing work that was on par with anything I had ever seen at the Hayward or the serpentine. There hanging improbably from the ceiling, moving imperceptibly was a huge slab of slate. Barely touched by human hand it seemed to exude ancient mysteries, feelings enhanced by its suspension in mid air, the very idea of which defied not only all conventional ideas about displaying stone sculptures but also the very nature of the stone itself. Instantly one was made acutely aware of the sheer presence and weight of the slab.
Around the corner another surprise – coal. Here was Bitumen at its best sensuously smooth, glowing like rich silk, its voluptuous curve drawing your hand up to its open perfectly round centre. Then at the end of the gallery, beckoning you a strange grouping of limestone blocks as evocative and compelling as Stonehenge itself, holding, like that great ancient monument, it’s secret close to itself, never to be disclosed.
I left the gallery excited, stimulated and inspired – feelings I still experience some five years later whenever I visit Tabbaa’s studio or home where his pieces stand quietly around, as comfortable as old friends, asking nothing of you until you approach them. Then like powerful magnets they draw you in and demand renewed attention of their subtitles.
Although Tabbaa’s work still arouses the same feelings, the artist has, over the intervening years, worked his way slowly from the wonderful pieces at his exhibition where the stone was all powerful the artist relegated to the position of servant attending to the details it demanded, to wooden sculptures where the artist is very much in control – the master. Tall painted planks, standing on end support each other while along their flanks run small grooves, ridges and meandering lines of pegs. Painted in strongly contrasting colors – bright blues, reds and greens these strange hieroglyphics lead the eye up, along, down and round forever indicating new angles, new patterns and forms. And while it is true Tabbaa is more in control of these pieces he has not lost the mystery so characteristic of all his work.