Jordan’s capital Amman could seem monotonous at first glance, as it has few green spaces and beige, uniform houses staggered upon a hilly landscape. Yet, between the narrow alleyways and along building walls are vibrant bursts of colours, elaborate artworks adorning local neighbourhoods. This is the street art scene, the sign of a burgeoning youth presence fighting to brighten up the city.
Street art is relatively new to Jordan; it's part of a locally cultivated hip-hop culture that has been developing among the country's youth for the last couple of decades. For young people with limited opportunity and spaces to feel free, street art has become an accessible form of expression; all they need is cheap spray paint and the city as their canvas.
See some of Amman's street art in the photo gallery below:
“There is so much waste for the energy of young people here [in Jordan],” says Alaeddin Pasha, a hip-hop artist and founder of Underground Amman tours.
"We don’t have enough parks, we don’t have enough spaces for youth. Youth really needs something, and hip-hop or street art became one of the ways."
Pasha started Underground Amman tours about a year ago. It is a walking tour of the city during which he guides tourists and visitors through the street art scene. He starts on the hill of Jabal Amman and then weaves through stairways, hills and narrow streets, before ending up in the neighbourhood of Jabal Al Weibdeh.
A variety of art adorns the streets he walks; messages from young artists to the city’s citizens. From joyful images of flamingos and twirling dervishes, to more profound messages of equality, strength and hope, the artworks' styles and sizes vary on each wall and street.
Along a staircase lined with bookstores and coffee shops, the painted face of Mahmoud Darwish stares out at you, alongside colourful sunflowers and obscure sketches. On another, a poem, a play on the writing of Al-Mutanabbi, a famous Abassid poet that states: "Not everything you wish for you get... The wind does not blow as the vessel desires." This one turns that statement on its head: "If you want something you will get it, even if all of mankind and the spirits fight you... The wind comes in the way the ship intends."
On a busy day, one could walk past these images without even noticing them. But through the tour, Pasha transforms the city into an art gallery, rich with stories, talent and hidden messages.
"Most of my clients are foreigners. Most likely they go to Petra, Wadi Rum, but they don't really know what we have in Amman. Which is street art. They get surprised," he says.
The development of street art and the hip-hop scene was a challenge to Jordan’s traditional societal norms, as here rap music, dancing and graffiti have been considered taboo. In more conservative circles, the sight of street art was seen as a sign of devil worship.
This was not a deterrent to artists like Pasha. Driven by creative passion and the restlessness of youth, they pursued their work and, over time, it has become more accepted. “Since 2014, the street art in Amman has been booming,” says Pasha. “There were so many difficulties, but little by little people started understanding that this is a form of art, this is something beautiful.”
Pasha sees the tour as an opportunity to shine a light on the overlooked talent of Amman’s youth and the hip-hop scene in general. And while the local social stigma is being shattered, Pasha also hopes to carve out a new narrative that challenges international stereotypes surrounding Jordan and the Middle East.
“I want to show them the best of my city, my people and me,” he says. “Most people outside, they have a strong image of us, about the Middle East, Jordan, Arabs, Muslims. But once they come here, they change their mind.”