As I am reflecting on the time I was privileged to spend abroad in Amman (see my earlier reports here and here) and the wider region, the pictures I captured of the city make me extremely happy and nostalgic. I wanted to share some of the pictures of street art from Jordan that I have collected during the past four months. The increased frequency of street art that has begun to appear in Amman can be viewed as a way to see some of the unique character of the city. Looking back on my time there, I am grateful to have been able to see some of this individuality in person as a visitor and temporary resident.
Amman is a city with a very young street art scene, but one that continues to grow every year. Part of the limited street art comes from culturally and self-imposed censorship of public art, as I learned from attending a talk put on by artists in Amman. If an artist in a public place puts up something that challenges the norms of what is accepted, it is likely to be covered up or defaced by fellow citizens. Any art that is vaguely political or in some way promoting what is perceived as ‘immorality’ will likely not last more than an hour on the busy street. Therefore much effort and forethought is put into street art designs to ensure that they will not be misinterpreted as being insulting or insinuating something against the dominant culture. Any political message has to be carefully crafted and subtle. A lot of larger street art is commissioned by businesses or organizations in a way to decorate public spaces and ensure the art will be respectful. Others examples of images are extremely small and discreet, so a careful eye is needed to spot them.
In some ways it is the lack of a lot of street art that makes each piece stand out so much. The knowledge that careful consideration is required for each piece increases the value immensely. While there are neighborhoods in the city where it is much more common to see street art, they tend to be more wealthy or touristy areas and likely have a higher number of expats living in them. In contrast, other areas of the city will have very limited graffiti, such as scrawled phone numbers or a few crudely sprayed words. These are frequently painted over or ignored for being insignificant.
Much of the wording of the street art that I found was in English, perhaps as a way to showcase the art to not only locals but to anyone who may be visiting Amman. Many had obscure meanings and were hard to decipher. The work below by Hamza Al Salhi appears to depict a traditional Bedouin man, a member of one of the local tribes of Jordan. His long braids and head covering reflect the traditions of the nomadic people but are not commonly seen in the urban streets of Amman. Due to the increase of strictly enforced international boundaries and the influx of technology, many Bedouins are without a way of making a traditional living. In the past, Bedouins had the freedom to move to different locations with the seasons in accordance to the needs of their flocks or farming needs. However, in recent years many have moved to more urban places such as Amman to try to earn any kind of living.
This image may reflect a man who has been forced to adapt to city life in a way that was not completely his choice, and therefore has resentments about it. For anyone unfamiliar with some of the economic trends of Jordan, this piece would be extremely hard to understand. Yet this is partly why it is so important to display for a Jordanian. This mural was painted as part of an urban art festival in May of 2016 called Baladk (which translates to “your city” and works to reclaim Amman and make it into a unique city). Baladk works to make sure that art pieces that adorn Amman are a symbol of individuality and empowerment. It is a way of working with the people and authorities to put up these pieces of art proudly in daylight and ensuring that graffiti is to be celebrated as a form of beauty.
Amman’s ability to turn art into a variety of functions is nothing short of amazing. One of the most iconic murals to adorn Amman’s streets is a large geometric deer head located in the downtown. This image has become popular in a variety of ways, finding its way on to t-shirts and sweatshirts from a popular retailer Jobedu. The spread of Amman’s art is reaching farther than just those who are lucky enough to see it in person. In time, it is likely that more of an art culture will grow.
In conclusion, I will be forever thankful for the time I was able to spend in the beautiful city of Amman. Watching the beginnings of a unique street art scene is an opportunity I cannot forget. Inshallah, when I return I will see many more beautiful pieces of art in the streets to reflect the culture of Amman.