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A calm kingdom in a region of turmoil, Jordan is gaining a reputation for creativity.
“When the [Iraqis] came there was a boom,” Al Sharif said. Although there were a number of exhibitions in Jordan at the time, she says they were mostly low profile. Iraqi artists brought with them a taste for larger exhibitions and edgier art. “When [they were] exposed to good exhibitions, this made the Jordanians think I need to do that too.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi artists say Jordan has helped play a critical role in their development as well.
“Before the war in Iraq, we were closed off from world, but here in Jordan we can get in touch with the world with the Internet, news, and traveling with exhibitions,” said Ghassan Ghaib, an Iraqi artist who has lived in Amman for nearly five years. “The culture is very free and open for artists.”
Haidar al-Mhrabi said that in Iraq he felt he was improving as an artist, but when he arrived in Jordan for the first time in 2006 he realized there was a world of art he’d never seen. More than interacting with Jordanian artists, he says, meeting artists from all over the world and seeing new styles helped him to rethink his approach to art.
“I found my chance here,” al-Mhrabi said. “I saw more artists, and more paintings, and so I told myself that I must find a new style if I want to be an artist.”
Ola El-Khalidi, director of the Makan House of Expression, a small, private art house in Amman, acknowledged the role of Iraqis in helping to get the art market moving.
More than anything, she said, El-Khalidi said, Amman’s reputation as a calm city in a tumultuous region had helped it develop as a place for the arts. For many Arab artists, in places like Lebanon or Israel and Palestine, meeting in person is made difficult by a variety of travel restrictions. As a relatively open country, Jordan serves as the ideal place for creative gatherings, whether a tiny collaborative meeting or a large workshop.
While many are hoping that the arts in Jordan are attaining a critical mass strong enough to keep the momentum going regardless of world events, in some regards its future may depend on the continuing regional instability that makes it an attractive and easy place for artists to meet and work.
“Economically and politically speaking, we’re not sure what’s going to happen in 10 years, but if the situation stays as it is in the region, then Amman has a very good potential of standing up and people coming here and wanting to do stuff,” El-Khalidi said.
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