Issue No.
179, March 2013 Latest update 9 2014f August 2014, at 4.39 am
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Beauty and the Sublime: Photography Exhibit by Ali Qleibo

This photography exhibition captures the early morning light on the al-Aqsa Mosque in 40 large-format photographs. They were taken in one-hour sessions over six months between February and August. They capture winter, spring, and summer in both the rain and sunshine. In painterly style, the artist seeks to capture the incidence of the sunrise.

In winter, Jerusalem projects a sense of forlorn melancholy. The winter clouds increase the level of humidity. The dry, vibrant summer ochre and rose hues bouncing off the stones of the city lose their brilliancy. The colour of Jerusalem in winter is grey. The stones turn grey. The sky turns grey. The purple shadows in the cavernous anater (covered passageways) turn black-grey. The blue mosaics of the Dome of the Rock turn grey; its golden dome hardly glistens. As the sun moves further and further north, the city moves from hazy shadow into bright sunshine. An iridescent thin mist of honey gives Jerusalem its unique spring glow. As the earth glides through the immenseness of space, its relationship to the sun shifts. Each morning is unique.

The photographs reveal the astonishing beauty of the noble sanctuary. The transitory incidence of shimmering light on the holy shrine evokes the exhilarating feelings of awe, delight, and admiration. Its emotive splendour assuages our loneliness and stimulates our intimations of the infinite. Its immensity, lyricism, and harmony trigger the feeling of the sublime.

Beauty and the Sublime escorts us through al-Aqsa Mosque. The buildings that spread throughout the lower and upper courtyards of al-Aqsa Mosque were built over a span of more than 1,200 years. Sultans, kings and emirs who have visited Jerusalem have left a rich monumental archive in the courtyards of al-Aqsa. The photography exhibition is a grand tour of the often overlooked medieval theological colleges, ablutions fonts, water reservoirs, reclusive domed rooms, arches, praying platforms, domed niches, and vaulted galleries that are scattered asymmetrically and bathed in the golden glow of the first sunlight. The playfulness of light and shadow and the shifting colours cast resonance and dynamism onto the demure monuments. Above, in the centre of the upper courtyard, shimmers the golden dome that enshrines the holy rock (al-Qudus), the locus of Prophet Mohammad’s transfiguration in the Night Journey (al-Isra’ wal-Mi’raj).

As the earth journeys in its orbit around the sun, the relationships of light and shadow reorganise constantly. The buildings are architectural masterpieces, yet their beauty is further enhanced by the play of light and shadow. Each morning the earth shifts its meridian ever so slightly in a total reshuffling of the planetary orbit; today’s image is an elusive moment that will not be repeated. Each moment is unique; the play of light and shadow in all its intricate details is a transitory moment that will not be replicated, adding a level of sublime beauty that surpasses human artistry, crafted by the greatest artist, God.

The wide range of photographs includes the grand scenery that leads to the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. The casual olive, cypress, and pine groves that cover most of the lower courtyard have a wild sort of beauty. In the lyrical photographs they stir spiritual, reflexive yearnings, denoting solitude and the untamed, unchanged aspect of nature-an aspect which the scene has worn for centuries, affected only by the seasons, the sunshine, and the rain. Here, we stand on sacred ground. Personal fear is replaced by a sense of well being and security.

Beauty and the Sublime records the ever-shifting play of light and shadow over the majestic architecture and evokes the feeling of the unbounded and the limitless. The simple greatness of the ancient architecture becomes a tableau made up of many elements that counterpoise with the shifting lights and colours to become phantasmagorical shapes and forms produced by a magic lantern. The unbounded and unlimited silhouettes and transitory outlines offer us a universal glimpse at the spacious, the infinite, and the eternal, and surpass the formal boundaries of culture, geography, and sectarian religion.

The photographs invite the visitor to linger on the sacred ground. Summer or winter, with the warm or cold glow of the morning sun the viewer is transported and intuitively senses the sublime, a feeling of quiet wonder, and a beauty completely pervaded by divine presence.

Beauty and the Sublime was produced and financed through the gracious generosity of the Austrian Hospice, which hosted the show for over 18 months on al-Wadd Street in Jerusalem.

The art show begins on March 7 and continues through March 14, 2013. It’s open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Friends Boys School in Ramallah.

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