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Graffiti in Amman: Disrupting the city

Sep 27,2018 - Last updated at Sep 27,2018

Since my return from England in 2014, I have settled in Amman. I have been very excited to see the beige walls coloured with uprising graffiti art around the city. Surely, Amman is not Berlin. However, eastern and western parts of the city meet through highly animated expressions, which contribute to the articulation of the city’s new urban identity. The concept of street art in Amman is still in its beginnings and has not fully flourished. However, I have been flirting with the idea of a book that celebrates and highlights, documents and charts the progression and evolution of street art in Amman from its origins to where it is today. This project should also work towards amplifying the marginalised voices and shed the light on their identities in the public space of the city.

Graffiti in particular transforms the paint of walls into evocative landscapes and transmits the identity of its inhabitants through concrete walls. Street art intervenes with the city. It calms, and is still when the city is moving, chaotic and busy. And it moves you when the city is at rest. It speaks to you when everything else is silenced around you. Street art brings the artist and art itself closer to community and takes it out from the bourgeois confines of theatre and art galleries. If art can be empowering, street art is doubly so because it gives people an opportunity to occupy public space in ways they are usually denied. 

Over the last decade, Jordan has developed a peculiar underground culture in an effort to articulate a sociopolitical discourse, which years of regional unrest have made more than necessary. Slowly, the municipality of its capital, Amman, is accepting graffiti art and understanding the value of bringing colour and certain messages to the city. In Amman, street art is no longer exclusively associated with resistance and civil disobedience: It is not solely revolutionary. it is also evolutionary. For example, the emergence of calligraphy as a pretext for artwork and as an artwork itself, as well as the emergence of female graffiti artists, are but a few evidential factors of its evolution. Furthermore, graffiti in Amman is not run-and-hide, it is not secretive and it is not illegal anymore. It happens during daylight and is sponsored by the government and various NGOs. The Greater Amman Municipality has adopted the trend of refashioning urban environments through graffiti. The art offers vibrancy that covers a decaying wall, attracts the eye and conveys a sense of modernity and youthful refashioning. Good examples are the recently renewed space of the second-hand Friday market in Ras Al Ain and the tribute to the centennial of the Arab Revolt at the8th Circle.

Jordan has hosted refugees from across the region for more than half a century. After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, and the war in Syria in 2011, however, street art in Amman took a different turn. Street art does not only exist, but it is also celebrated. Moreover, the abundance as well as the variety of subject matter have become very characteristic of its evolution. Subsequent to the diverse communities Amman has hosted from Iraq, Syria, the Gulf and Egypt, street art has tried to hold the diverse communities together, offering a serene colourful home/city/space for its citizens. It stimulates dialogue. During and after the so-called Arab Spring, too, graffiti was used to document, voice and safeguard the revolutions of the Middle East, of which Amman plays a major role as a cultural hub.

No major works have thoroughly tackled the subject of graffiti in Jordan. There is an already existent work on graffiti in the Arab world. Similar projects in and about the region mainly include Arabic Graffiti (2011), Lost Walls: Graffiti Road Trip through Tunisia (2014), Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution (2014), Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine (2011), and Gaza Graffiti (2011). The majority of these projects have been conducted by foreign researches. It would be great, therefore, to see local talents take on the task of rewriting the walls of Jordan and its various themes, mainly identity, gender, religion, class and propaganda.


The writer is author at Palgrave Macmillan and an assistant professor in post-colonial and English literature at the American University of Madaba, Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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