Ahmed Canaan:The Storyteller between Realism and Dream of Flight

Aida NasrAllah

This Catalogue includes the paintings of the artist Ahmed Canaan ,between the years 2005-2007


This Catalogue includes the paintings of the artist Ahmed Canaan ,between the years 2005-2007, mostly centered on the theme of the Knight and more accurately with the theme of woman linked to the populist  and mythical links of the homeland, the dream and knight.

The knight and the horse both of whom represent war, are inextricably  linked to the image of the horse, who  is represented as an animal who serves the human  .

Ahmed Canaan has dealt with the theme of knight with his humor , using  what serves his ideas and location,, taking advantage of the Arab ,Islamic and Middle Eastern, heritage, including the civilization of Mesopotamia with its various forms and techniques.      
Narrative nature prevails amongst Ahmed Canaan’s plates, because it gives his paintings designations such as Dreams Knight, Woman Receives the knight, Reception of Saladin ,Diaspora and The Siege of Rafah , as if he told us the story of waiting and reception, the dream and its opposite of disappointment at the tragedy of his people, but he tends to dream and show optimism in his paintings.

Paintings in the catalogue can be divided as the formal installation of two parts:
1. Theme of the knight in the center.          
2. Theme of the knight distributed in calculated fixtures in the space of the painting.

Series I: In which the Knight is in the centre of the image, formed of color techniques that suggest a mood between tradition and innovation.
We must address the painting of the Knight under the title  Resurrection, which formed the knight of several of Knights models, a translation of the color of the building of the Iron Knight Saladin in Tamra, which was formed by the artist from about a thousand models of iron knights.

On the ground of  the mentioned painting, there are drawings for the same model as shadows of the Knight, which covers the area of the background of the topic. This is where there are  tendencies of the artist towards unification between subject - space and the Earth -. This brown knight composed of several Knights is a Knight collectively, not determined by one monochrome, but there are other models, such as the Knight in the Market, where the knight is in the center of the painting, the artist has downsized him as a result of the different ground surfaces on the plate and divisions of the Knights of colors.

In the series the knight suggests that  he has the possibility  to be any Knight not just a label, except for the place, which refers to the identity of this mysterious knight.
In the painting Blue Knight, the knight is in an  interior box surrounded by Knights who serve as a framework for the panel, where the artist divides the painting into two sections, the first includes Knights and the second includes circles. There is no doubt that the circle is  shown in more than one painting in this catalogue, the artist has used  it as ornamental and as a space in which to look  through.

The interpretation of some of the paintings is linked inextricably to women, so it cannot be disconnected from the subject of the “ dreams knight,” where the  expectant women in the painting Dreams Knight, are laterally squadron towards the Knight, They receive him carrying baskets [pots] containing fruit as a kind of gift, which are similar to paintings of providing gifts to ancient gods, the tradition adopted  by the Canaanites who provide gifts to the god in the ancient Akhenaton whilst  in the Palestinian milieu , the artist has highlighted the Knight in white, which translates into  the contradiction between abstract ground and between realistic painting of girls who represent Palestinian girls.

In the panel entitled  The reception  of Saladin, women receive Saladin  in the same form as the previous picture, but we see a picture of a woman who appears to be the Great Mother as symbolic, which  can be forwarded to the fertility goddess IshtaröAnat, exaggerating the parts of  the fertility gods, taking  its shape  at the top of the picture, so to outweigh the Knight.

In addition, Canaan has not forgot to honor the normal Palestinian woman in thepainting My Queen, where he shows her  above the passage that shows girls under shadowy color, like girls on their way to provide gifts, as if trying to work as an analogy between a normal woman and between Anat, thus, every Palestinian woman in the artist’s thinking deserves consideration and appreciation. That the presentation of woman drinking her morning coffee on  the terrace of her home, seemingly  beyond the nature of the village, is the scene of daily normal life, which mixes dream with realism.


How does Canaan link the dream with realism through Al Buraq?

Through the iron sculpture of Al Buraq (1997), Ahmed Canaan takes us through history accompanied  by  the journey of  the prophet Mohammad to heaven (Isra’ and Miraaj), but the journey in this case  assumes  humanitarian and political dimensions that opens up other concepts within Ah’mad’s dreams.

Al Buraq is  symbolic ,meaning the trip of discovery corresponds to  secret - the mystery , searching for a solution, therefore  here we must pause to reflect on   the headlines that link the dream with the reality .The titles of his paintings ,his statues are transmitting the desire to fly like an attempt to fly , but flight is not pointless, it is linked to land, in Winged Plow, which is a countenance picture of Al Buraq, linked to land by Canaan, where there was a kind of eagerness for these dreams to be achieved . So the spiritual (the dream) is linked to the ground (realistic) in a permanent search for a knowledge/solution. Here the Knight is inextricably linked symbolically to the Buraq, as this Knight, which is the central theme in the  paintings of Canaan in this catalogue,  and which shows a realistic dimension the sum total of everything the artist is looking and Waiting for the Savior.

The artist composes the Knight of the faces appearing  to be from different generations of women and men, prisoners and demonstrators, as a symbol of an entire people possibly linked to the dream, which shows the  people  being freed from their chains. Each  person experiences this dream from his point of view, but it is the dream of people to live better, by  the recovery of  a symbolic” Saladin.


Dream detainee\ Loss \ Diaspora.

The second series of paintings shows  the knight distributed over the floor of the painting, in the form of oriels, these paintings carry headlines such as Diaspora, “Jenin behind the screen and Rafah, a brief theme of these paintings is about personalities, siege, imprisonment behind iron bars.

Technique in some of these paintings delineates  the issue, for example, we see distributed Knights within boxes cross lines indicating the  blocked roads,in the panel Diaspora, where the Knights are distributed within boxes without order, as in other paintings.

    The abstract could be explained by claiming that Canaan is linking three dimensions:
1. Realistic daily ground, the normal knight field, dates back to the home   where his woman expects him.
2. Dreams Knight of the girl.
3. The expected Knight, the saver and savior of the people.

Style and techniques:
I am explaining  that the salient feature in Canaan’s modern works is summed       up in several components:
1. Intermingled, ,diagnostic and abstract.
2. Taking a decorative unit from the Islamic art and enlarging it.
3. Inverting of the diagnosis to illustrate.


I will address the points above through the analysis of the method:

What draws attention to the works of  artist Ahmed Canaan is the variety of techniques, it is well  known that he worked with stylized solid substances, he passes across sculptures to painting, Canaan had used iron plates that he cut their models for, for the formation of the Knight Saladin that is located in the town of Tamra,.  The  plates formed spacepaintings ,oriels similar to the old ones, through shredded aperture models, we see the horses drawn on canvas from behind oriels  as an evocation of the visible and invisible to provoke the viewer, in an attempt to collect such shredded parts behind the surface and disappearing under the wallsomething similar to an  oriel, to illustrate the point, for example, the panel Hiding Knight, shows by a  mixture  of concealment and antagonism, between negative and positive, the strong element of vision,. This method applies to most of the paintings of this Catalogue.

In his works Canaan changes the concept of securitization and Arabesque decoration using a new way of construction onto a diagnostic painting that reflects the image of the Knight, where shredded models form an ornamental and objective element at the same time. I think that the painting entitled the Resurrection”, shows this point very dramatically.

Conversion of the horse as a decorative unit enabled the artist to exploit it as a decorative frame,as a guard and saver for the painting inside. It is like a paved way in the old Persian carpets, as in the painting Tamra through the Knights, Canaan has only one unit of the geometric decking, such as the squarethe circle in some cases, he repeated it in a form that offers a space in some paintings, in contrast to the Islamic decoration, which fills all the a space, allowing the artist to highlight his themes comfortably, not outside his heritage. [The knight has emerged as a frame and theme in the twelfth century in Shiite miniatures].


The works mostly depend on parts to install the whole through dismantling and reinstallation[reconstruction]. Thus, when the Knight becomes a decorative ground for the same subject, it carries the meaning of unity between the ground and subject, and thus become the background, the land, home and place, united with the motive of the Knight.


Symmetry and Congruence /Mirror Style:

Canaan used the method of mirroring in most of his paintings which include symmetry ,congruence and balance in the picture, where we see these elements remarkably clearly  in his paintings , both through the images of Knights and their reflected mirror,images which tend to the right and the corresponding magnitude to the left.
This method has its references in the  cultural heritage of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Islamic art; It is in this work and use of style that we see the infusion of civilizations and history.



Canaan uses colors sensitively, as in some paintings, predominantly blue, green, brown, where his colors consists of colors of the Palestinian land, the bright blue sky  occupies sometimes the whole area of the painting, as we see in the painting Blue Knight, however, and even when the painting consists of many colors, the harmony is characterized during the progression of color to color, in a way that shows the deep study of color by the artist, which is equal to his study of installation, thus, the similarity of  color theme in the painting division is achieved, even paintings covered by the dark brown iron oriels, we see which colors are illuminating.

Finally, I believe that the characteristic of the paintings in the current catalogue is that it is a combination of civilizations which show that  the works of Canaan were an attempt to root  himself in the Canaanite artistic history - and his allegiance to the geographic roots in his country, through the imposition of the place names given to the paintings, such as (,Tamra Jenin, Rafah), and that the artist was not suffering from the question of displacement and denial, because it all shows itself so clearly in his , paintings, with the exception of venues in which he imposes a presence . Ah’mad Canaan is constantly  addressing the topic of flight and discovery through the art of his works in different places in this world.


By: Aida NasrAllah – Um Al”fahm

Translated by Ziad Al Labdi