Exhibition explores Arab architectural influence in Latin America

Titled “Alhambras: Neo-Arabic Architecture in Latin America,” the show was at the Jordan Museum in Amman.
Sunday 24/06/2018
Andalusian influence. A view of La Glorieta Castle in Sucre in Bolivia.                             (Alhambras exhibition)
Andalusian influence. A view of La Glorieta Castle in Sucre in Bolivia. (Alhambras exhibition)

AMMAN - Aunique exhibition focused on the influence of the Arab world in Latin America and the special bond between Arab and Latin American cultures through the art of architecture was presented through 37 beautiful photographs.

Titled “Alhambras: Neo-Arabic Architecture in Latin America,” the show at the Jordan Museum highlighted a period in architecture’s history marked by the construction of Alhambra, the famous palace and fortress complex in Granada, Spain. The palace was built in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid Emir Mohammed ben al-Ahmar of Granada.

Rafael Lopez Guzman, professor of art history at the University of Granada and scientific coordinator of the exhibition, described the show as a unique experience.

“It is an initial approach to the wealth of Latin American architecture that was inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Granada and other significant Andalusian heritage in buildings erected for the main part in between the latter half of the 19th century to the first third of the 20th century,” Guzman said.

“The interest lies in the fact that the Jordanian citizens can visualise the influence that the Arab culture, in this case the one of Al-Andalus, had in distant places like Latin America.”

The 37 beautifully made images of architectural landmarks throughout Latin America, where the Arab influence on institutional, private and leisure buildings can be appreciated, were a feast to the eyes, Guzman said.

“History tells us a little about the relations between Arabs and Latinos. It is reduced to the arrival and presence of (Arab) emigrants,” he said. “The important thing is that when we put together apparently diverse elements we can observe an influence that we had not evaluated correctly.”

Ana Ramos, a native of Andalusia, pointed out there are connections in many fields.

“Absolutely, there are cultural linkages in the traditions, social relations and gastronomy that can be felt on a wider scale,” Ramos said. “We need to remember that, in addition to culture, there is closeness in language as we inherited words from the Arabic language. Several cities, such as Seville, Grenada and Cordoba, show much cultural closeness.”

The Arabic influence on the Spanish language can be best seen in words spoken every day such as “azucar,” which originates with the Arabic word “as-sukkar” — “sugar” in English. “Alberca” comes from the Arabic “Al Berka,” which means “pool” in English.

The exhibition was preceded by a seminar on “Arab and Latin American Culture,” which covered the influence of the Arab world in Latin America in relation to the inspiring power of Al-Andalus experience and offered a detailed view of Arab cultural influence in the Americas since its colonisation by Spain to modern times.

Lecturers said the Mudejar style, which is centred in the Aragon region of north-eastern Spain, has been recognised with representative buildings as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, in addition to “neo-Arab” art.

Mudejar style is a technique of creating architecture influenced by Muslim and Christian cultures that emerged as an architectural style in the 12th century on the Iberian Peninsula.

Manal Shamot, a fan of history of architecture, said the exhibition depicts the special relation bonded by history between the two cultures.

“I have always been a great fan of architecture especially when it is related to the history of our Arab culture,” she said, adding that the exhibition, the result of years of research and financed by the Council of the Alhambra and the Generalife, offered a unique approach to the wealth of the Latin American heritage inspired by Alhambra Palace.

“There are so many cultures that took inspiration from the great Alhambra. I believe there are many interesting issues linking the two cultures which can be revealed through exhibitions like this one,” she said.

“Alhambras: Neo-Arabic Architecture in Latin America” came in the framework of the Arab-Iberian-American Divan for Thought, a platform dedicated to promoting dialogue between the Arab and the Ibero-American world in cooperation with the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, the Cervantes Institute, the Spanish Embassy and the Arab Thought Forum.

“We are definitely joined by culture more than we could expect,” Guzman said.

A taste of Arab culture. A view of Palacio Portales in Cochabamba in Bolivia. (Alhambras exhibition)
A taste of Arab culture. A view of Palacio Portales in Cochabamba in Bolivia. (Alhambras exhibition)
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