Iraqi artist creates striking murals for women's empowerment in Amman

Painter Miramar was moved to depict anti-violence themes after a husband blinded his wife in north Jordan four years ago

A huge mural of a black-clad woman with eyes closed towers over traffic in downtown Amman.

It represents a young Jordanian woman whose husband gouged out her eyes in 2017 in Jerash, 50 kilometres north of the capital.

“Let your eyes be cast on mountain tops,” says the graffiti work on a 10-storey building façade by Iraqi painter Miramar on Prince Mohammed Street.

Street art is uncommon in Jordan’s mostly conservative society. Miramar, 24, is one of few women in the kingdom of 10.9 million people practising it.

But most people on Prince Mohammad Street seemed to have little idea about the story behind the painting.

"I watched when the lady was on a platform working on the mural," said Anwar, owner of a car electricity repair shop. "It looks nice, but I don't know what it means."

Rami, owner of a popular coffee kiosk on the street, said the woman in the mural "is probably some girl".

Self-taught, Miramar paints with big brushes and acrylic paint. Grey tones dominate her work.

I am covered with paint but they do not talk with me because I am female. Maybe they are shy to talk with women

Her Iraqi father fled Saddam Hussein’s rule in the 1990s to Jordan, where she was born.

As Miramar started painting graffiti in the streets of Amman with consent from the authorities, she was galvanised by the case of the woman with the gouged eyes.

The Netherlands funded the painting in 2019, as part of a campaign to raise awareness of violence against women in Jordan.

Miramar worked from a bridge held by ropes attached to the top of the building.

Baladk Project

“She is looking toward her own mountain tops. It is an inner state of individuality of freedom and strength,” she says.

“I wanted to show something positive. There are so many cruel stories happening in Jordan."

Although many in Amman still do not seem to know what the painting means, Miramar said male spectators asked her friends and assistants with her about the work. Male bystanders also asked about other murals she painted in Amman.

“I am covered with paint, but they do not talk with me because I am female,” she says.

“Maybe they are shy to talk with women. It is weird. We are in 2021.”

“People cannot be themselves in the street. They have to take into consideration everyone else but themselves,” she says.

Miramar sees herself also as an activist, trying through art “to influence a public sphere in Jordan that lacks expression".

“I do not like it when they decide what you [should] do based on your gender. I fight against this stuff,” she says.

"Women are viewed as vulnerable and weak. But how are you vulnerable when you can do this on a very large scale?”

“Do you need larger than this to see me?”, she says, referring to her murals, which depict other women figures with closed eyes.

She also paints in her workshop, where she is “free to make mistakes” as no one is watching her.

“In the street, it is more communal. You are painting through the city, through the observer,” she said from her studio on the First Circle, one of the oldest districts of Amman.

Near the studio, on Othman Ben Affan street, she painted a large mural of Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.

The late Hadid gained renown after she moved to London in the 1970s. Her large eyes are wide open in the painting.

“The more you add expression to the street, the more people will see that and do something similar in spirit,” Miramar says.

Miramar did not meet the woman with the gouged eyes, and the authorities did not release her name.

Although the husband was sentenced to life in prison, many loopholes are widely regarded as remaining in the system, allowing others who perpetrate domestic violence to get away with light sentences.

“The saddest thing is that she cannot see the mural,” Miramar says.

Updated: September 26th 2021, 2:04 PM