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Artist maps Jordan’s diverse refugee communities

By Camille Dupire - May 22,2018 - Last updated at May 22,2018

Spanish artist Isidro López-Aparicio’s ‘Mapping Refugee Camps, Jordan, 2012 – 2018’ is seen on display at Darat Al Funun’s Blue House in Jabal luweibdeh recently (Photo courtesy of Darat Al Funun)

AMMAN — Inspired by his years working on the issues of migration and refugee crises, Spanish artist Isidro López-Aparicio recently concluded a creative project focusing on the various refugee populations of Jordan, alongside students from Jordan University and residents from the Zaatari camp.

The result of this collaborative work, titled “Mapping Refugee Camps, Jordan, 2012 — 2018” is an installation which has been on display at Darat Al Funun’s Blue House in Jabal luweibdeh.


Mapping refugees presence with art

“After working in the Western Sahara for 10 years, mainly in the Tindouf Refugee Camp, I developed a better understanding of various conflict-related issues, such as landmines, war injuries and all the legal and technical matters they imply for the injured and their families,” López-Aparicio told The Jordan Times, adding “I also worked on ‘Mare Nostrum’ last year, a project that sought to expose spectators to the subject of migration by placing them in ‘the middle of a figurative sea’.”

In Jordan, the Spanish artist worked in Zaatari refugee camp, where he met with residents who helped him refine his initial mapping idea.

“I have worked with mappings and human geographies many times before, and it was clear for me that I wanted to work inside the refugee camps with the maps and archives,” he recalled, noting that, despite the risks that it entailed, he did not bring any pre-made artwork with him. 

“Everything that is in the show was made in Jordan,” López-Aparicio stressed.

Divided into three installations, “Mapping Refugee Camps” provides an overall view of the refugee issue in Jordan, which has been hosting some 1.4 million Syrian refugees, in addition to many refugees from other war-torn countries in the region, according to official figures.

“My work seeks to display the complexity of migration throughout history with the aim of increasing public understanding and raising social commitment,” the artist explained, underscoring “my art has always been very close to social conflicts and I try to use it as a tool to look for positive transformations of those conflicts, through a complex process of research and social mediation on the context.”


Variety in the history of refuge

He said it was “important for him to have the refugees themselves involved in the creation process”, by having them draw the lines of their everyday journey inside the camp.

“For them to fill these maps has a twofold purpose: it shows the rest of the world what a difficult routine living in a refugee camp implies while helping those already in the camp rethink their daily lives,” López-Aparicio said, noting that, contrary to the map of Palestine, which is easily recognisable due to its symbol as a way to claim the Palestinian territories back, the maps of refugees camp are barely known by the public. 

“I wanted to make visible the issues of the refugee camps by identifying their shapes, which can tell us a lot of thing; they are full of meanings,” he stressed.

Visitors also get to observe a large table filled with dissolved bits of Nablus Palestinian soap, which López-Aparicio used as a contrast with newly established Syrian camps, defined by controlled and closed borders. 

“It was important for me to work with soap as it is a symbolic material historically connecting the Mediterranean,” the artist remembered, noting that after shaping them and setting them on the map of Amman, he proceeded to pour water on them during the opening of the show, to demonstrate the soap’s progressive spread over the city.

 “Lopez-Aparicio also collected various objects in those camps to create ‘sculpture archives’ which, displayed with maps and sounds, create a new iconography picturing the ‘real lives’ at the camps,” Joud Halawani, assistant curator at Darat Al Funun, told The Jordan Times.


Art as a tool for social commitment 

“From my early childhood, I have been focused on two passions: art and social commitment. Now that I have achieved a status of professional artist working internationally, I try to maintain my social engagement through various activities which, I think, really makes a difference in the way that I approach art,” López-Aparicio said. 

He stressed the importance of having mediators from the local context, which he chose in the persons of Mohammad Shaqdih from Darat Al Funun, UJ teachers including Jehad al Ameri, Diran Malatjalian and Diala Al Daghlise, as well as UJ students Leen Jamil, Tamara Ali and Abd Rahman. 

“Including these people was very important as they provided me with deep knowledge and respect towards the local context,” he explained, stressing that his work aimed “not to disturb the normal lives of the residents of the camp”.

“In some cases, art can enhance critical thinking and self reflection by denouncing, showing new approaches that could create a social impact in society.” He recalled how some foreign officials present at the opening got struck by the clear statement that their own countries has not provided as much as Jordan for refugee communities.

“Choosing to expose the maps of some major European cities like London, Paris, Berlin and Madrid was a strong statement regarding the burden borne by Jordan compared with Europe. I want the West to know the reality of refuges and finally assume our common human responsibilities,” he underscored. 

“Ultimately, all the humanity needs art and culture,”López-Aparicio stressed, calling on media outlets to “be an echo” to the effort of some artist in moving consciences and instilling positive change. 

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