Written by: Maria Nissan

AMMAN- To be an artist is to navigate an ocean of creativity and horizon without always finding a port or setting anchor. Two years ago, I decided to let myself be carried away by the wind, to cross the Atlantic and to land in Jordan, more precisely in Amman. 

As an environmental activist, I see art as a cry from the heart that expresses itself to touch souls, change minds and redefine the way we consume. Arriving in Amman, I understood that my art could, perhaps more than elsewhere, question us about our behavior towards waste and its impact on our lives and environment. 

Despite its unique beauty, walking Ammani streets can be a journey strewn with all kinds of waste. My eyes cannot turn away from the abundant number of shiny plastic bags, glass bottles, soda cans, candy bar wrappers, styrofoam etc. My desire to shout out my frustration at seeing such an incredible city tirelessly cover itself with waste pushes me to become an agent of change and no longer a spectator of the present. 

Installation view of Plastic Oceans at Orient Gallery, Amman-Jordan, courtesy of the artist.

I had an ongoing dialogue around the question of waste management with Jordanians from different socio-economic backgrounds. I traveled in various beautiful places from South to North both disfigured by waste, I quickly started searching for the root causes of the accumulating waste issue in Jordan. 

Talking about plastic waste with people in Amman and other towns, it is clear that a majority of the local community is aware that domestic waste is a serious issue. 

However, the lack of interest of individuals to engage in more sustainable actions towards waste management is a patchwork result of different barriers that are among others: Behavioral, cultural and situational. 

Installation view of Plastic Oceans, courtesy of the artist.

Behavior towards waste is to my opinion highly impacted by a lack of environmental and health concerns by the current economic crisis in Jordan. Locals’ main priorities appear to be around employment, financial stability, access to education, good quality of life, etc.. However, this last priority seems to barely correlate to domestic waste management. 

This can be explained by the fact that Jordan has not yet developed a waste management/recycling culture and a real sensibility towards the protection of the environment. Like elsewhere, individualistic behaviors remain prominent compared to society’s general interest. 

Another barrier discussed with Jordanians is about what is commonly named as situational constraints. Locals often mentioned to me that even if they would engage more efforts towards waste management activities (separation at source, repairing products, compost organic food at home), a key barrier is the lack of physical waste management facilities or structures. The almost absence of collection points, the few existing recycling factories and the lack of policies enforcement combined to a mistrust into governmental responses create no incentives for individuals to feel more responsible towards waste management. 

Installation view of Plastic Oceans, courtesy of the artist.

Change of attitude and behaviors towards waste management can therefore occur by engaging direct conversations about the amount waste produced and its societal cost. It’s a long-term and challenging process. For instance, in summer 2019, I started collecting shisha pipes for an art installation and had multiple talks with shisha owners about the waste and economic cost that plastic shisha pipes represent for a local café or restaurant. From one café, up to 200 shisha plastic pipes were used and thrown away on a daily basis. Alternatives to plastic pipes exist such as the leather pipes, but I felt that the reluctance to change was stronger than the opportunity non-plastic pipes would offer to these structures. 

Also, the environmental and economic costs resulting from the massive domestic use of plastic bags are negative externalities that all Jordanians can witness on a daily basis. Providing “free-of-charge” plastic bags is a cost for retailers and shops, while the amount of plastics being littered in the streets or nature is not negligible. In average a basic white or colored plastic bag is used for a period of around 10 to 12 minutes but takes up to 700 years to turn into microplastics. We could encourage people through offline and online awareness campaigns to bring their own reusable bags when shopping. While taxing non-reusable plastic bags could be the figurehead of wider national reflection about the quantity of waste generated in the country and its consequences on the environment and on people’s life. 

Installation view of Plastic Oceans, courtesy of the artist.

Finally, I think that the spokespersons for a change in behavior towards waste must imperatively be local. During conversations while collecting waste for my artistic installations, I indeed faced a mosaic of sometimes contrasting reactions towards waste alternatives making it difficult to get individuals on board as a foreigner. 

My art is only one of the founding stones of a path towards reflection and questioning around garbage and the way it is treated. To give voice to my art, I had to surround myself with these women and men who made me discover Jordanian culture and society and who are able to talk about waste to local populations with the codes and standards that it is appropriate. I indeed benefited from great local support and achieved this by showcasing my work at Dar Al Anda Gallery, Manara Arts & Culture, Orient Gallery, Jadal Culture, Wild Jordan, Wadi Finan Art Gallery and Q0DE gallery. 

Like other countries where I have exhibited, my art in Jordan is a message but not the messenger. Are you this messenger?

About Guest Writer Maria Nissan:


Maria Nissan is an Iraqi Environmental artist and a 2018 MFA graduate from Studio Arts College International in Italy, with a bachelor’s degree in art education and a minor in painting and drawing from the University of Georgia. She taught art at Athens Academy and worked as a ceramicist for Winterhawk Pottery before moving to Florence, Italy, to pursue her master’s degree. During her time in Florence, Maria has created immersive sensorial installations that merge cultures and communities. The installations include different materials, evoke all senses, and have a strong performative aspect. Her work creates experiences through the transformation and manipulation of recycled and organic materials releasing an immersive experience. The work discusses ongoing themes of feminism, waste consumption and Iraqi cultural identity.  She started an art therapy program for refugees in Athens, Greece. Since moving to Jordan she has continued to create installations and drawings from trash materials within Amman’s local community. She has shown the work in various gallery spaces throughout  Amman such as Dar Al-Anda art gallery, Orient gallery, Q0DE gallery, Manara Arts and Culture, Wild Jordan, Jadal for Knowledge and culture and other local owned project spaces.  

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