Connect to share and comment

Is Amman the Mideast artists' mecca?

A calm kingdom in a region of turmoil, Jordan is gaining a reputation for creativity.

AMMAN — When Rana Snober Al Sharif used to host exhibitions at the Orfali Art Center in the 1990s, she says, “people did not appreciate art.”

Most treated the events as little more than a social outing, paying limited attention to the art. Of the few people willing to buy a painting, she says, most tried to wrestle her and the artist down to the bare bottom price.

 “Now after 10 or 11 years, this has definitely changed,” said Al Sharif, now the chief executive of the center. Though exhibitions were still a highlight on many social calendars, visitors often came back after the opening to spend time privately examining the art, and many paintings were selling at full price even before they went on display.

 Jordan, long thought of as a quiet, backwoods corner of the Middle East, has begun transforming into a formidable center for the arts. And while it may not compare to, say, Paris, London or New York, Amman is emerging as a noteworthy destination for many creative professionals from around the world.

The kingdom's stability has made it a magnet for refugee artists from Iraq, Palestine and other regional conflicts. These artists, combined with an increasingly art hungry culture, have helped fuel a creative burst here.

Most galleries in Amman are booked solid with exhibitions for the next two years. Local collectors are buying painting for more than $50,000 today, whereas 15 years ago they topped out at $1,000.

 In September, Jordan opened the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts, a graduate-level film school partnered with the world-renowned University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.

As a student just six years ago, Asma Beseiso said Jordan had little to offer her and her creative classmates. Schools focused almost exclusively on classical art and outside the classroom she says the arts community was “very limited.”

 Now a documentary maker and arts aficionado, Beseiso, a Palestinian who has lived in Jordan her whole life, said “people are getting exposed to all different things, not only the classical styles.”

She pointed out that Jordan has even seen the rise of a small hip hop and break dancing scene. “The people here are trying to be more open to new ideas, to new types of art,” she said.

 While there’s debate over when exactly Amman’s art scene began to blossom – some say the early '90s, others says around the start of the most recent Iraq war – Iraqis have had an undeniable effect on the art community here.