Artist Anees Maani had passed through the airport en route to Amsterdam where he was exhibiting a one-man show of his sculpture at Kunsttraject Amsterdam. It was during the last weeks of that terminal’s 30-year life: concessions were already transitioning to the new terminal where crews were busily preparing for its Grand Opening.
Maani, an Amman native, pulled out a camera and began to photograph the old building. Hundreds of decorative aluminum I-beams traversing the high ceilings especially caught his eye. “They were delicious,” he said, describing the galvanized bars, “I wondered what would become of them.”
The thought stayed with him, and when he returned to Jordan he contacted AIG CEO Kjeld Binger with a unique proposition. Maani pitched creation of a large scale outdoor artwork to celebrate the iconic new terminal, built from materials sourced from the old building. He would create a permanent souvenir of the grand old airport using upcycled demolition debris.
Maani trained as an electrical engineer and architect at the Building Academy in Volgograd, Russia. His coursework included classes in sculpting and he soon found himself gravitating to fine arts. He returned to Jordan to pursue sculpting seriously, and in 1996, started a two-year apprenticeship with Jordanian sculptor Nazih Owais.
Many of his pieces exhibit pronounced architectural forms, striking shapes that relate to ancient archetypes, often untitled. “If you title a piece, especially a sculpture, you end up with somebody going, ‘Oh, this is called Bee so it’s a bee, and that’s it’. However, when the piece is untitled, one can see a million other things. It’s better; you’ll elicit a million comments on the same piece. I get so excited about the possibilities.”
In 2011, he created a sculpture at the Jiza train station (located near the airport) from iron rails. Maani also has three stone pieces on permanent display in the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts Park. The artist works primarily in stone, but no material is off-limits.
The Queen Alia installation, his largest to date, will also be untitled. Maani says the design is open to interpretation by all airport users and visitors to the kingdom. The swooping lines of the piece may suggest flight, or a stark skeletal spine. Decoding is left to each viewer’s imagination.
Maani’s biggest influence is Jordan’s natural landscape. He’s involved with many projects relating directly to nature, including the book Field Guide to Jordan, which documents the kingdom’s varied terrain, flora, and fauna through gorgeous color photography and informative descriptions.
He designs a line of copper jewelry inspired by ancient Nabataean art, called Bits of Petra. And he acts as construction manager and props master for commercial films including The Hurt Locker, and the soon-to-be-released Last Days on Mars.
Maani is thrilled to be involved with this project for many reasons. The sculpture will complement the Foster+Partners-designed new passenger terminal while paying quiet homage to its noble predecessor. He observes that art is considered a luxury in Jordan, nonessential and indulgent.
He said, “With this project, Airport International Group is making a strong statement of support for the Jordanian art scene, perhaps inspiring more investment in public art and encouraging young Jordanians to pursue development of their creative talents.”
Images courtesy of Anees Maani; images of the artist and QAIA demolition from Laurie Balbo