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Wijdan Ali (1939–)

Wijdan Ali
(1939–)

A Jordanian art historian, painter and curator, Wijdan Ali (born Wijdan bint Fawwaz Muhana) is also a diplomat.

PERSONAL HISTORY

Wijdan Ali was born in Baghdad, Iraq on 29 August 1939. She was born with the title of sharifa (roughly noble) because both her father, Sharif Fawwaz Muhana, and mother, Sharifa Nafi'a bint Jamil Ali, were descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Descendants of Muhammad are honored throughout the Islamic world, and entitled to carry special titles. On her mother's side Wijdan is the great-granddaughter of Sharif Husayn bin Ali of the Hashemite family of Mecca, who launched the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1916. Wijdan also is a first cousin of the late King hussein bin talal of Jordan.

Raised in Amman, Jordan, Wijdan bint Fawwaz received her B.A. in history from Beirut College for Women (now part of the Lebanese American University) in Beirut in 1961. In 1962 she became the first woman to enter the Jordanian foreign service, although her family did not allow her, as a single woman, to be posted abroad for long periods. As assistant director in the department of international organizations, she represented Jordan at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, and the General Assembly's Economic and Social Council in Geneva, in 1962. From 1965 to 1966 she worked as program officer for the UN Development Programme in Amman. In April 1966 she married Prince Ali bin Nayif, a distant cousin. Thereafter she became known as Princess Wijdan Ali and left the Jordanian diplomatic service.

INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS

Wijdan Ali long has had an interest in art. She took private art lessons in Beirut as an undergraduate, and started painting in 1964. As a member of the Jordanian royal family, Wijdan Ali established the Royal Society of Fine Arts in 1979 and, in 1980, the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, both in Amman. In 1988, she organized the Third International Seminar on Islamic Art, which was held jointly by the Royal Society of Fine Arts and the Islamic Arts Foundation in London. The following year she organized an exhibition on contemporary Islamic art that was held by the same two organizations. From 1989 to 1994, Wijdan Ali also served as editor of Islamic art for the Encyclopedia of Islamic Culture that was produced by the Royal Academic for Islamic Civilization Research in Amman. She later traveled to London for graduate studies in Islamic art. She completed an M.A. (1991) and a Ph.D. (1993) in that subject from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

During 1990 and 1991, Wijdan Ali also lectured on Islamic art and aesthetics at Yarmuk University in Irbid, Jordan, and she has taught at the Higher Institute for Islamic Art and Architecture at Al al-Bayt University. She remains president of the Royal Society of Fine Arts, a member of the Arab Thought Forum and the World Affairs Council of Amman, and a member of the board of governors of the International Centre for Islamic Studies in London. Having returned to diplomatic service after several decades, Wijdan Ali was appointed Jordan's ambassador to Italy in October 2006.

She has authored several books, including Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity (1997), and The Arab Contribution to Islamic Art: From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Centuries (1999).

THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE

Wijdan Ali is recognized internationally as Jordan's leading expert on Islamic art and as an important artist in her own right. In 1994 she received an award from the International Council of Women in the Arts.

LEGACY

Wijdan Ali will be remembered mainly for her contributions to the artistic scene in Jordan, both as a painter and as the founder of the Royal Society of Fine Arts and the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, and as an expert on Islamic art.

BIOGRAPHICAL HIGHLIGHTS

Name: Wijdan Ali (born Wijdan bint Fawwaz Muhana)

Birth: 1939, Baghdad, Iraq

Family: Husband: Prince Ali bin Nayif (married 1966); three daughters: Nafaa (b. 1966), Rajwa (b. 1968), Basma (b. 1970); one son: Muhammad Abbas (b. 1973)

Nationality: Jordanian

Education: B.A. (history), Beirut College for Women, 1961; M.A. (Islamic art), School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1991; Ph.D. (Islamic art), School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1993

PERSONAL CHRONOLOGY:

  • 1962: Enters Jordanian foreign service
  • 1964: Begins painting
  • 1979: Founds Royal Society of Fine Arts
  • 1980: Founds Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts
  • 1988: Organizes Third International Seminar on Islamic Art in Amman
  • 1989: Editor of Islamic art for the Royal Academic for Islamic Civilization Research's Encyclopedia of Islamic Culture
  • 1990: Lectures on Islamic art and aesthetics at Yarmuk University in Irbid, Jordan
  • 1994: Receives an award from the International Council of Women in the Arts
  • 2006: Appointed Jordanian ambassador to Italy

CONTEMPORARIES

Mona Saudi (1945–) was born in Amman, Jordan, and now lives and works in Beirut. She studied sculpture at the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris, graduating in 1973. She is one of the few Arab female artists to work primarily on large, modern art stone sculptures. Saudi's works are influenced by the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi, and often are patterned after Arabic calligraphy and ancient Middle Eastern art forms. She is also a poet, and a collection of her poetry titled An Ocean of Dreams was published in 1999.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. Available from http://www.nationalgallery.org/Intro.html.

Wijdan Ali. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.

―――――― The Arab Contribution to Islamic Art: From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Centuries. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 1999.

"Wijdan Ali, Interview." Nafas. December 2003. Available from http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/islamic_world/articles/2003/princess_wijdan_ali.

                                        Michael R. Fischbach

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