The intense reds, oranges, purples and blues were so luminescent under the bright sun, that I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. Before me stood an immense painting of a woman’s head, perhaps 30 metres high and covering the entire side of a building just below Paris Square in downtown Amman. It was a dramatic glimpse into a completely unexpected street art scene that can be found all over some districts in the city. Street art, although in its infancy, is thriving in Amman … and the quality is very high.
What’s extraordinary about the many building-sized murals and smaller artworks you see dotted around Amman, is that it seems to be almost completely below the radar. It wasn’t mentioned in my guidebook, and I hadn’t read anything online when planning my visit. It came as a huge and very welcome surprise as I was wandering around the streets. I mean, anything that brings colour to the drab streets of the Jordanian capital has to be an improvement.
I recognised a couple of European artists that I’d seen in other cities a long way from Amman, but mostly what I saw was home-grown street art by Jordanians. This explains the distinctive Middle Eastern feel of the majority of the artworks. One of the driving forces behind this revolution is the Baladk Street Art Festival, which has promoted Jordanian artists, including many female artists. This also explains why so many of the artworks I saw were of female characters.
That the Amman street art scene includes plenty of young women contradicts many of the most firmly held ideas about patriarchy in Jordan and the Middle East. It’s a breath of fresh air, although shouldn’t be a fig leaf for the gender inequality that infects much of what is still a largely conservative society. I spent time wandering around the Jabal Weibdeh area, finding artworks in the largely residential streets of Amman’s newest contender for the title of ‘Most Bohemian District’.
It would be fair to say that the blank concrete walls of Amman are uniquely suited to becoming canvases for street art. This is a city crying out for some colour to enliven its predominantly dour urban environment. What started out as a small group of artists pursuing their passion, is now evolving into a tourism marketing dream. The Jordanian Tourist Authority has already begun promoting the street art delights of Amman.
Leaving the Jabal Weibdeh district behind, I made for Amman’s famed Rainbow Street, the city’s original bohemian district. Here you can find even more street art adorning the limestone walls, but it’s exhausting stuff walking Amman’s hilly topography to find them. Luckily, there are plenty of good cafes at which to refuel with falafel and strong coffee. Here you can also find the British Council, famed amongst local street artists as the birthplace of the contemporary scene.
As I made my way back down from this neighbourhood towards the Roman Theatre, I came across a mural of a woman in a blue headscarf being painted onto wall high above the bustling street below. It was evidence, if that were needed, that street art has most definitely arrived.