When most people think of neon art, they tend to picture flickering “open” signs and outdated advertisements. But when Amman-based conceptual artist Hana Ghawi thinks of these electrified glass tubes, she sees a medium waiting to be molded.
Hana first pursued her interest in neon art in 2015 by founding Amman’s first art design studio dedicated to the art form. Meaning “lightbulb” in Arabic, LAMBA specializes in the design and manufacturing of bespoke neon artwork in Jordan’s capital city and produces each piece in collaboration with local designers. Far from a resurrected ’80s trend, these avant-garde pieces represent an eclectic mix of English and Arabic influences that are made from cold cathode neon tubes and hand-shaped by Amman’s artisanal glass blowers.
Pretty interesting, huh? We sure thought so.
We caught up with Hana to chat about her practice and see how LAMBA plans to shed light on the city’s creative community.
How did you first get into neon art?
I’ve always admired and appreciated art, in all of its forms. Back when I lived in the U.S. (in Boston and then in NYC), I started noticing a rise in the popularity of neon art and the crazy creative things you can do with the material. It fascinated me, and I knew I had to do something with the medium when I moved back to Amman.
What about the medium drew you in?
The idea of juxtaposing old, traditional elements with neon lights that are usually associated with low-budget signage in Downtown Amman is what I found really exciting and unique. Re-contextualizing this art form and challenging the typical perception of neon is at the core of what I do now.
When and how did you start LAMBA?
After moving from New York back to Amman, I realized the potential of neon in my art practice. In Jordan, neon lights are merely used as signage for stores, but I wanted to change that and challenge the fact that they were only used for “practical” purposes, so to speak. I wanted to turn them into something more, a form of art for our country. Thus, LAMBA was born in 2015.
Did people think it was weird that you were creating the first neon art design studio in Amman?
Definitely! When I first started LAMBA, I wanted people to shift their perspectives and view neon as an art medium, not just some commonplace thing. Seeing the success of this shift, and now seeing this form of art in homes, is really exciting.
Why did you want it to be a collaborative project with other designers?
I personally wanted to collaborate with local and regional designers on specific collections, so that quickly became a staple aspect of LAMBA. It gives our products an extra dimension, pushes our concepts to new fields of thought, and provides a larger base of knowledge and expertise to learn and innovate from. We strongly support and believe in the idea of community and creative collectiveness — more collaborating and more conversing will make for larger strides in the right direction, from business to product output!
What about the stereotypical neon art did you hope to reinvent, and what did you want to stay away from?
We love all kinds of neon, and we like to say that LAMBA is a space for all things luminescent. We want to light up the world with positivity, and to beautify it one installation at a time. As a team, we deliver custom work with a flare of our own, as well as “new” creative pieces for those patrons more interested in that style of work. We don’t set any limitations for ourselves when it comes to neon, but soon, we hope to be breaking norms and installing massive, everlasting statement pieces all over the region.
Your pieces often combine Arabic and Middle Eastern elements — why is that important to you?
I think that Arabic calligraphy and Middle Eastern motifs are just so special. That said, they can often be too traditional looking. I love mixing these traditional artistic elements with neon, as it amplifies them and gives the traditional motifs new life. It’s a process that I’m extremely passionate about.
What other cultural elements inspire your pieces?
Truly, everything inspires us. From the land we come from to our travels, our research, everyday interactions, phrases we hear, people we meet, cultures other than our own — they all amalgamate to create the project that is LAMBA.
Has your view on neon art changed since you launched LAMBA?
My appreciation for neon has definitely grown since the initial launch — it’s just such an interesting and malleable medium that is so fragile. It allows you to create a vast array of pieces and supplies you with a little bit of limitation that allows you to birth greater creativity and problem-solving so as to reach unique and innovative results. I guess you could say that neon has transformed from an interest into an obsession since I started working with it. There is so much more to investigate!
What is the creative scene in Amman like, and how has it shaped this venture?
The creative scene in Amman is flourishing — it is an ever-expanding industry and every day, a new emergence of art occurs. The galleries in Amman are strong and open to collaboration as well, which is incredibly exciting. For example, WADI FINAN is one such gallery that supports us. It’s a tough city to break into, but with commitment, focus, and hard work, it can happen, and it’s extremely rewarding. Overall, being in Amman has allowed us to reach many other areas and locations, both locally and internationally.
How many people are involved with LAMBA today?
Raya joined the team as my design partner at the beginning of this year, and we also have two glassblowers, who produce our pieces, as well as an accountant. We occasionally work with a freelance designer too, who has been with us since we started. It’s a small but mighty team, and one that I am incredibly thankful for.
What thoughts, conversations, or emotions do you hope to spark through your work?
Ultimately, the spirit of LAMBA is pop. At the end of the day, the purpose of each piece is to light up a space — all of our customers want to add a touch of pop and illumination to their spaces. We love mixing classical elements with that pop and adding a modern accent to somewhat classical homes or other spaces. Our work aims to revamp any area it enters. And, as a reach, we’ll soon be adding a conceptual artistic aspect to LAMBA’s mission of illumination, popularity, and joyous light. But more on that soon…