Written by: Kyle Benedict Craig

AMMAN – Amman’s graffiti and street art scene began to take shape in the mid-to-late 2000s and accelerated in growth in the past five years. Every year new artists and initiatives emerge that aim to transform relationships between urban dwellers and the spaces they inhabit. New businesses also opened to support public art in the city. Among them is Pandazilla, Jordan’s first and only “street art shop”, founded earlier this year. Pandazilla carries a trove of spray paint, and the shop supports the burgeoning graffiti and street art scene through sales of products such as t-shirts and prints showcasing Jordan-based artists’ works.  

Collaborative graffiti tag from Seddeq Abu Ghoush’s (Axel 25) workshop, image courtesy of Majed Abu Dayyhe.

For the 2019 edition of Amman Design Week, Pandazilla ran a series of workshops and events with Jordan-based artists specializing in various media under the title, Everybody is Born an Artist. The goal of the workshops were to hold discussions with the wider Jordanian community about different methods for artistically engaging with the city. The workshops also advocated for the idea that one does not need to have professional credentials or skill sets to navigate the world as an artist.

Miramar explaining how to use grids to transfer images from one surface to another, image courtesy of Majed Abu Dayyhe.

Throughout the week participants learned about the styles and methods of four prolific Ammani muralists—Sara Allan, Suhaib Attar, Yara Hindawi, and Miramar—who each shared tactics for producing murals on differently shaped and textured outdoor surfaces and discussed the particularities of producing art works in a city such as Amman. Miramar, for example, shared how she developed a process for creating original grid systems while creating her mural of late Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid for the 2019 Baladk annual street art festival in Amman. 

Sara Allan and Miramar’s team working on their collaborative mural, image courtesy of Kyle Benedict Craig.

During Sara Allan’s mural workshop, a lively debate ensued regarding the distinction between design and art. Some participants posited that design is more pragmatic and always geared to some functional purpose whereas artworks are purely expressions of artists’ inner emotions. Others in the workshop challenged this distinction, noting how art can also serve a functional purpose; for example, as a treatment for mental trauma. Similarly, some participants pointed out how designers often take inspiration from artistic genres and aesthetic trends. This debate was all-too-appropriate for an art workshop that took place as part of Amman Design Week and underscores the ongoing forms of exchange and cross-fertilization between designers and artists in Jordan. 

Seddeq Abu Ghoush (Axel 25) discussing different styles of graffiti lettering, image courtesy of Majed Abu Dayyhe.

Graffiti writer Seddeq Abu Ghoush (Axel 25) ran a workshop on the history of graffiti in Jordan. Seddeq emphasized that graffiti writing is a form of cultural production that does not require a teacher and encourages people from any background to make their mark across the cityscape. After sharing his graffiti motto of “doing it for the soul, not the show,” Seddeq guided participants in creating their own original tags. The workshop concluded with all participants collaboratively tagging the word possibilities on the Omar Bin Khattab stairs on Jabal Amman as an homage to this year’s theme for Amman Design Week

Workshop instructors were not limited to artists known for producing artworks on the cityscape. The series of workshops also included artists who create representations of the city. During Saleh’s workshop on urban sketching, the artist discussed how he considers his sketches to be records of particular times and places in the history of cities. He also sketches to philosophize about new possibilities for engaging with urban spaces and to think about how life in a city might change if its visual characteristics were to be altered. For example, Saleh often draws Amman as multi-colored to counteract the monochromatic beige buildings for which the city is known. After his lecture, Saleh sent out participants to create their own urban sketches. The variety of sketches they produced within a block radius of Pandazilla emphasized the infinite number of perspectives that can be drawn out of small and seemingly limited spaces. 

Artists and participants preparing for mural day in the German Jordanian University parking lot and DJs Babers Abu Dayyeh and Oun Jweinat (not pictured) provided the soundtrack to the mural day, image courtesy of Kyle Benedict Craig.

The workshop series culminated in a walking street art tour from Underground Amman as well as a daylong painting session at the German Jordanian University parking lot—a space that in recent years has transformed into a massive outdoor exhibition for graffiti and street art. All workshop artists and participants whose ages ranged between 5 and 30 years old spent the day collaboratively planning and painting murals to live music from local DJs Babers Abu Dayyeh and Oun Jweinat. For most participants, this was their first experience with creating a mural. The session began with a modest number of artists and participants (15-20 individuals overall). In a few hours, however, the number of people helping to produce the murals grew to well over 40, highlighting the participatory potential of this artistic medium. Prominent graffiti and street artists Odai Jalil, Wesam Shadid (Wize One), Randa Abu Rahmeh and Siner also came out to paint with the group. 

Suhaib Attar creating a large-scale portrait of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker with the help of Hammam Masry, image courtesy of Kyle Benedict Craig.

With the growth of urban art forms such as graffiti and street art, questions about how to define Amman’s “identity” in a time of rapidly diversifying populations and changing social structures are also gaining prominence. After observing these workshops, it seems that Everybody is Born an Artist is not simply an expectation that everyone strives to become producers of artistic products. Rather, the title invites reflection on how to wield artistic projects to facilitate more inclusive and collaborative relations in the city. When I spoke with Pandazilla owner Majed Abu Dayyhe, he said the past week was only a preview of more to come, as his goal is to build the shop into a primary hub for public art projects throughout the city. 

About Guest writer Kyle Benedict Craig:

Kyle Craig is a PhD student studying cultural anthropology at Northwestern University. He is currently living in Amman while conducting research for his dissertation on the intersections of youth culture, art, and social life in public urban spaces.

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Image courtesy indicated in captions.