Yesterday, I joined an Underground Amman walking tour, highlighting art of the city’s hip-hop community. The artists focus on breakdancing, rapping, beatboxing, and graffiti/streetart. Underground Amman tours take place most Fridays.
We began on Rainbow Street in Jabal Amman neighborhood, proceeded downtown, and ended the tour at “House of Dreaming” – a creative hip-hop meeting place in Luweibdeh neighborhood. The route passes through backstreets and colorful painted stairways strewn with an eclectic combination of modern art and ancient architecture from “civilizations long since passed“.
“House of Dreaming is an open space for communicating the beauty that resides in each of us, our dream.” jo.arabplaces.com
Amman Hop-Hop Artists
“Streetart wasn’t common in Jordan until about six years ago. Before that, drawing on walls was considered vandalism. People called it “street literature,” since it primarily consisted of written quotes and phrases cheering favorite football teams, leaders, and lovers, and sometimes condemning the authorities. People also wrote funny expressions and advertised their businesses.”
Over the last 15 years, streetart, graffiti, break- and free-style dancing, and beatbox artists in Amman have flourished. The city’s diverse hip-hop community embodies the cultures of many different countries, including Jordan, Palestine, Armenia, Lebanon, Iran, Serbia, Syria, Iraq, and more. Artists are creatively inspired by their camaraderie and sharing life experiences. The community is 70 percent female.
Many local artists migrated to Amman from war-torn countries, and sometimes their creative work “addresses social issues“. Their aim is “building an artistic community that links people, revives stories buried underground, and creates awareness of contemporary arts and hip-hop”.
“Some murals in Amman stretch five, six, or seven stories high, covering the entire side of a building. In other spots, long walls become galleries for street art containing a dozen pieces or more, and painted concrete stairs reveal colorful images when viewed from below.” Other Things
Our guide, Alaeddin Rahmeh, a Palestinian refugee, is a talented dancer, artist, and hip-hop enthusiast. He shared some of his beatboxing and dance moves and told us about himself and fellow artists who’ve gained recognition and respect in Amman. Street artists are bound by creative content guidelines. Political, religious, sexual, and violent pieces aren’t allowed.
One interesting story is of a street artist arrested for putting the Jordanian national anthem to a hip-hop beat. He remained in jail for a few days but was released. Later, he was jailed for another artistic “indiscretion,” but convinced his jailers to let him go, if he painted a mural inside their police station. They liked the mural and set him free. Since then, several Amman police stations have had murals painted.
A wall in Jabal Amman contains a 600-year-old poem by Iraqi poet, Al-Mutanabbi. The poem literally means that “winds blow counter to what ships desire – winds referring to life and ships meaning human beings”. This is a common Arabic phrase, meaning that “in life, you don’t always achieve the goals you want”. The poem was “reversed by an artist to express a more positive and hopeful message”. One of the lines reads, “The wind will go as our ships want – encouraging people to work hard in overcoming life’s obstacles.
In March 2007, a car bomb “detonated on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. It ripped through a thousand-year-old book market, killed several dozen people, injured hundreds, and decimated a traditional center for literacy and debate in Iraq”.
“The Underground Amman Tour, a weekly walk held on Fridays, provides a broader perspective of the ancient city, by exploring the often-hidden art scene in the heart of downtown.” The Jordan Times
Streetart “transforms communities and provides an impactful means to raise awareness and spread positive social messages”. During my travels, I’ve learned about streetart in many countries and written posts from different cities – Prague, Berlin, Istanbul, Bodrum, Athens, Durbin, Cartagena, and Valparaiso.
“Creative individuals and groups use streetart as a medium to transform parts of a city into exciting, vivid representations of local identity.”
There were about 30 people in the group, mostly Europeans. I lost track of all the painted walls we viewed and some of the stories Alaeddin shared about the meaning and significance of each painting. The walking tour lasted two hours and involved hiking up and down Amman’s undulating hills, stairways, and streets. At the end of the tour, I walked home from Luweibdeh – neighborhood of my first apartment. Many of the photos in this post aren’t captioned.
“Inspired by Jordan’s water shortage” – it’s one of the most water-scarce countries in the world – an artist who goes by “Sardine depicts a mermaid wearing a t-shirt with a dead fish on it”. Another piece by Sardine depicts Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet, with the words “Ana Araby” (I’m an Arab) written next to him.
A former journalist, Sardine is of Armenian descent, and describes himself as a “wall illustrator” and “more of a cartoonist than an artist“. He sees graffiti as a “symbol of freedom“. In addition to “t-shirt-wearing mermaids,” Sardine draws “cartoons, including geishas, space ladies, robots, paper boats, and planes.”
“My streetart pieces are never political; the only message is to claim your city.” Sardine
Baladk Street Art Festival
Since 2013, Amman has hosted an international mural festival organized by the Baladk Urban Arts Project. The annual event “brings together artists, musicians, and community organizations from Jordan and across the globe”. For a week, participants “celebrate different forms of streetart, paint murals around Amman, and emphasize their common culture”.
Ramadan began on Thursday, March 23, following the sighting of a new astronomical moon over Mecca, the holiest city in the Islam world. It lasts until the evening of April 20. Since Friday is the Islamic holy day, and the first Friday of 2023 Ramadan, the streets were quiet. Most shops were closed until later in the day, when fast is broken at sunset. I’ll write a post on being in Amman during Ramadan. It’s a perfect time to better understand and learn more about local culture.
“In the Islamic calendar, the crescent moon marks the start of a new month. It takes 29.5 days for the moon to go through its phases. Since it isn’t practical for a month to have half a day, an Islamic month has either 29 or 30 days.”
The Cypress Broke by Mahmoud Darwish
The cypress broke like a minaret, and slept on
the road upon its chapped shadow, dark, green,
as it has always been. No one got hurt. The vehicles
sped over its branches. The dust blew
into the windshields … / The cypress broke, but
the pigeon in a neighboring house didn’t change
its public nest. And two migrant birds hovered above
the hem of the place, and exchanged some symbols.
And a woman said to her neighbor: Say, did you see a storm?
She said: No, and no bulldozer either … / And the cypress
broke. And those passing by the wreckage said:
Maybe it got bored with being neglected, or it grew old
with the days, it is long like a giraffe, and little
in meaning like a dust broom, and couldn’t shade two lovers.
And a boy said: I used to draw it perfectly,
its figure was easy to draw. And a girl said: The sky today
is incomplete because the cypress broke.
And a young man said: But the sky today is complete
because the cypress broke. And I said
to myself: Neither mystery nor clarity,
the cypress broke, and that is all
there is to it: the cypress broke!