If you ask Raed Ibrahim what it is like being an artist in Jordan he will make it clear to you that art is just one of many things he does. Of Jordanian-Lebanese descent, Ibrahim has been working in Amman since 2006. However, he had been a dedicated member of the Jordanian arts scene much before his permanent move from Lebanon. Ibrahim was one of the first artists in the region to attend Darat Al-Funun’s reputable summer academy with Marwan in 2000. In 2009, Ibrahim embarked on a year-long residency in Switzerland and then returned to Jordan to complete a residency at Darat Al Funun in 2010.

Raed Ibrahim with artist Marwan at Darat Al Funun in 2000

I had the opportunity to catch the multi-talented artist on a quiet Tuesday afternoon before the opening of two big exhibitions in Amman. Ibrahim’s pieces –now on view– at Darat Al Funun and the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts are a testament to his versatility as an artist. Before seeing his projects, I was able to ask him a few questions about his career as an artist, educator, and cultural policy advocate.

What was it like to complete a residency in Switzerland?

Ibrahim: “It was not easy to settle for few months in a place where you have to learn about the scene, and the language.  At times, I felt irrelevant and perhaps a bit out of context. As I returned to Amman, I felt Jordan and the region in general is more relevant for me.”

What kind of feedback did you receive on your artwork in Switzerland?

Ibrahim: “Presenting my work needs contextual awareness, and so in Switzerland, people perhaps kept their distance, with some exceptions of course, while in Amman, people jumped into my piece “State of Ishmael” immediately. The project was a declaration of the Argua cantone as a new independent state, and I prepared all the declaration manifesto, emblem, flag, and artifacts to make this declaration. It was easier for people in Jordan to relate the project to the issue of Palestine. It is maybe how I thought of the project too; so it is something that everyone has a stake in locally.”

Ibrahim, State of Ishmael, 2009, Switzerland (left), Jordan (right)

How has Darat Al Funun facilitated you as an artist?  

Ibrahim: Darat al Funun is a unique project in the region and perhaps the art institution in Jordan. The best exposure there is normally to individual shows, because they could bring together much of the artist work and focus some of its programs on his/her topics. I first visited the Darat in 1996 when I was doing my thesis on Palestinian artists, then I joined the summer academy with Marwan and this was an interesting phase in my intellectual thinking. When Spring Sessions (an annual program of art residencies and meetings) first started, I was one of the mentors who worked directly with younger participants. We could sit with other artists and talk about art, making art, and about what is important for the making and thinking about art. Such discussions were not so regular in Amman.”

Besides art, what are you working on?

Ibrahim: “For the past three months, I have been working with Jordan Children’s Museum on activating their art studio. I am working on giving the kids a good and fast pump of art!  Through a schedule and curriculum for educating young visitors about art theory, style and technique. I am always thinking about how I can give a fast but productive art experience, and the museum is great for its visitors can just show up on the day and engage with a program prepared for their short attention span and limited time in the studio.”

Ibrahim is developing short but sharp projects that are built to be speedy and impactful.

Ibrahim: “I try to get the body involved so that kids can associate the colors or styles with certain gestures.”

He is also using art to solve external problems many children face.

Ibrahim: “Children sometimes have a hard time working together, through art projects we can teach life lessons and lessons about collaboration. I look for problems or needs and try to find an artistic solution.”

Not only is he teaching at the Children’s Museum, Ibrahim is a fine arts professor at Jordan University and cultural policy advocate working on several projects to mobilize artistic programming around Jordan.

Do you think the Jordanian creative community has grown in the last ten years?

Ibrahim: “Yes it has, not enough, but yes. I think that institutions like the Jordan Children’s Museum, Darat Al Funun’s “Lab” space, the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Art‘s new projects, the spring sessions, our research project About Culture in Jordan (which attempts to map the infrastructure of the cultural production in Jordan) and events like Amman Design Week are starting to make a movement. It all takes patience.”

Ibrahim is looking towards the youth as catalysts for growth.

Ibrahim: “I am okay with the small achievements. Like teaching a group of children how to use watercolors for the first time. I offer this voluntarily to the children of the neighborhood and that’s how my living and working space mix. ”

Ibrahim, Compass, Clockwise, Disoriented, Mixed Media Installation, 2018, Jordan (image from the artist’s website)

All images courtesy of the artist.