• Local artist Mike V. Derderian says his aim is to spread art and "put his imagination" on the walls of Amman. (Samantha Jonscher)
Street art is thriving in Jordan's capital, and unlike Sydney or Melbourne, there are plenty of blank walls and not a lot of competition.
By
Kate Bettes

Source:
The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour
20 Dec 2017 - 9:26 AM  UPDATED 20 Dec 2017 - 9:26 AM

Amman's FADA 317 gallery is full of tagged paintings, graffitied school desks and stacks of comic books. Outside, the garden walls are covered in colourful tags, large-scale sketches, and street art ‘pieces’. It’s like a concentrated dose of the street art scene of Jordan's capital. 

The studio owner, Mike V. Derderian, displays the art of others, and says making street art makes him “feel free.”

“There’s no middle man,” he explains, as he sits in the garden in paint-splattered clothes. “You don’t have to go to a gallery and beg them to showcase your work.

"When I’m not painting I feel depressed.” Mike says his aim is to put his imagination on the walls and challenge others to do the same.

The 1920s Ottoman-style building is on top of a hill, and he gestures down through the haze below, where bright street art pieces can be seen amongst the houses. “There are a lot of walls in Amman. If you know how to ask for permission, find a wall that’s not illegal - there are many walls like that in Amman.”

Mike says visitors from overseas are surprised to learn that there’s plenty of room for street art in the socially conservative kingdom. In fact, earlier that day he’d been helping a young German artist to scout for local walls.

“I think it’s much easier to paint in Jordan than it is to paint in the US or Europe or Australia,” says Mike. “It’s hard to have competition when there’s only 20 artists operating in the country.”

According to Mike, “nobody has been doing this before.” As a result, Amman is relatively untouched territory in comparison to the paint-smothered urban alleyways of Sydney and Melbourne, where tags regularly replace other tags and political figures gain controversial alter-egos.

“I think it’s much easier to paint in Jordan than it is to paint in the US or Europe or Australia,” says Mike. “It’s hard to have competition when there’s only 20 artists operating in the country.”

Indeed the walls of Amman seem a perfect blank canvas for any visitors to Jordan armed with Dulux and rollers. Mike points to one such wall that is currently displaying a piece of dark and intricate graff-style writing.

“Everyone’s doing this,” he says. “This is fake graffiti. It emulates the Arabic letters.”

But for a country in a turbulent neighborhood, there are limits to what can be put on walls by artists. This includes touching on religion.

“So how would I know if I was getting in trouble?” muses Mike. He’s now in the kitchen. A portrait of Hollywood actress Tippi Hendren taking bloody revenge on Alfred Hitchcock, who she accused of sexual harassment, is on display.

“I’d get a call from someone,” he says after a short pause. “Like, ‘come over to drink some tea with us’ and it’s usually public security or something.”

But this hasn’t happened with Mike. “We’re very careful. Last thing you want to do is land in jail for a piece of illustration.”

Local graffiti artist, Ammar Sinan a.k.a. Sin or Sinar, agrees when it comes to the need to not cross boundaries.

He has artworks in FADA 317. Sin says he believes that because of the turmoil in the region and the relative peace of Jordan, it’s best not to “break that” by talking about religion or politics on the walls.

And if he did so? “It would be a big, big, big, problem,” Sin says simply.

Mike is optimistic though. He still describes street art painting as “the best feeling ever.”

“My mission is to spread art,” Mike says. “Put my imagination on the walls. When you do, that someone who sees that will either be challenged by it or inspired by it.”

He continues to spread his own tag - the face of a young woman astronaut called Anna Cosmonauta - all over Amman. She is a large-scale line drawing with a slight cowlick of hair visible from under her helmet.

“My mission is to spread art,” Mike says. “Put my imagination on the walls. When you do, that someone who sees that will either be challenged by it or inspired by it.”

“If you want to come and paint in Jordan it’s easy. You won’t get arrested,” he says. But then he stops and laughs: “Unless you’re doing something really bad.”

Video by Samuel Dunn & Kate Bettes. 

The authors travelled to Jordan as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour, a joint program between the University of Technology, Sydney and Swinburne University supported by the Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR).  

MORE FROM THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT STUDY TOUR
The Arab cooking school keeping a grandmother’s recipes alive
Three sisters have been carrying on the tradition of their grandmother’s Jordanian recipes.
Desert cultures connect through art
A small gallery in Amman offers locals and tourists a glimpse into contemporary Australian and Jordanian art.

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour is a joint UTS and Swinburne University project, supported by the Commonwealth through the Council for Australian-Arab Relations, which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.