Artsy Amman


An interesting observation of the questions asked of me when I returned from Jordan. Apart from “Is Jordan safe?”, the ones I found amusing were “Did you go to Petra, is it like in Indiana Jones?” , “You went to Jordan? Oh my god, Petra!!”, “How was Petra?”, “I hope you went to Petra!”. Of course I went to Petra, it would be a travesty if I didn’t!

I appreciate your questions and am more than happy to share with you about my thoughts on Jordan…and Petra. But nobody has asked me about things to see and do in the capital city, Amman 🙂

Well, the reality is majority of visitors fly into the capital city and immediately they are whisked off to the main attractions of Jordan. Over a period of a few days, tourists visit the ancient architecture of the Citadel in Amman or make day trips to Jerash or to Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea. Tourists also opt to make a 4-hour journey from Amman to Petra, take the obligatory photo at The Treasury, have a short walkabout in Petra, and return to Amman on the same day. Subsequently, they move on to other destinations in the Middle East – to Israel, Egypt or the Gulf countries.

There is no shortage of medieval structures in Amman for history buffs but how about getting to know its modern and contemporary side which is often overlooked?

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An introduction to the modern side of Amman is best found in the bohemian neighbourhood of Jabal Al L’Weibdeh. In L’Weibdeh, you will find a quiet and pleasant, leafy neighbourhood consisting of boxy cream-coloured townhouses and apartments, villas, cafes and parks – a striking contrast to Downtown Amman which resembles the stereotypical Middle Eastern city loud with traffic and market activities.

I started my exploration at Darat Al Funun, the centre of contemporary arts in Amman. Darat Al Funun or “Little House of the Arts” comprises three 1920s villas, situated on a steep slope in L’Weibdeh. The centre exhibits some of Amman’s edgy contemporary visual arts and from time to time, they conduct lectures and performances as well.

amman darat al funun sculpture

Here’s an interesting piece of work by Adel Abidin titled I’m Sorry.

amman darat al funun im sorry

The caption label says: Adel Abidin explores concepts of cultural alienation, marginalization and war; he uses these concepts to subvert cultural ideologies in a precarious and paradoxical world. His humorous approach plays with stereotypical occidental ideas of the East. On I’m Sorry he says: “During a recent trip to U.S. I met many people from different educational and social backgrounds. Yet, surprisingly, they all reacted in the same way when I mentioned that I was Iraqi”.

I was about to enter a gallery of black & white photographs but stopped short when I saw a man praying at the corner of the gallery. Initially I wasn’t sure what to do – was I allowed to enter or should I wait till he has finished his prayers.

amman darat al funun man praying

And then, it struck me what a beautiful scene this was. Set against plain white walls and black & white photographs was a man oblivious to his surroundings but focused on God. I took a picture of him discreetly; it was probably not the right thing to do because I might be intruding in his space but I couldn’t help myself.

The Darat Al Funun villas also have remains of an early Byzantine church, and a lovely courtyard sheltered by trees (and particularly, a jacaranda tree in bloom!) serving as a café with sweeping views of the hills and Downtown Amman.

amman darat al funun café jacaranda tree

Turning left out of the top gate of Darat Al Funun and a short walk ahead on the same street are L’Weibdeh’s other artistic centres. On that day, the Makan Art Space was closed while the entrance to Dar Al Anda was open but there wasn’t anyone around. These centres are venues to stage informal concerts, film screenings, workshops and other art events. Their opening hours vary, so if you are interested to check out their events, please refer to their websites for more information.

amman dar al anda

If mainstream art is more of your liking, then the National Gallery of Fine Arts is the venue to see works by traditional artists from the Middle East and North Africa. A 15-minute uphill walk from Darat Al Funun, the National Gallery consists of two buildings – one located opposite the other with a garden and children’s playground in between the two buildings.

amman national gallery fine arts

Here are some of the masterpieces exhibited in the National Gallery:

Oil on canvas titled "Al Intifada" by Abdul Qader Al Raes from UAE
Oil on canvas titled “Al Intifada” by Abdul Qader Al Raes from UAE
amman national gallery acrylic jordan
Acrylic on canvas “untitled” by Omar Bilbeisi from Jordan
Lithography titled "Nude" by Hussein Madi from Lebanon
Lithography titled “Nude” by Hussein Madi from Lebanon

Interestingly, I came across an artwork by a Malaysian artist, Nirmala Shanmughalingam whose acryclic piece is titled “Beirut”. Am very proud to see a masterpiece here by one of our very own!

amman national gallery acrylic malaysia
Acrylic on canvas titled ‘Beirut’ by Nirmala Shanmughalingam from Malaysia

After 3 hours of art and very much needed exercise (walked up and down the slopes of L’Weibdeh while searching for the National Gallery), I took a short taxi ride to Rainbow Street in Jabal Amman. Ammanis come to Rainbow Street to hang out at the cafes, espresso bars, restaurants and galleries to see and to be seen.

I alighted from the taxi at the start of Rainbow Street and walked along the length of the street. To be honest, the main thoroughfare isn’t that exciting but I would highly recommend to explore the side avenues and alleys as that’s where I found a charming bookshop-cum-cafe Books@Café, a print gallery Jacaranda Images and more quirky art.

amman rainbow street art vw van

Incidentally, I also stumbled upon a Books and Crafts fair, part of the Jabal Amman Cultural Week launched that weekend. The atmosphere was quite festive – some youngsters were dancing to Arabic pop music while others browsed the stalls of books, crafts, traditional dresses, jewellery and food. I even had a taste of Syrian dessert!

jabal amman fair

jabal amman fair stalls

jabal amman fair paintings sale

I had such an enjoyable day – my first day in Jordan – in search of the arts in Amman. It wasn’t an intense day of sightseeing but at a leisurely pace which was what I needed as I had only arrived in Amman earlier in the morning.

I’m glad that Amman is promoted for its contemporary arts and living. Not only it gives respite for travellers from all that sightseeing of ancient cities and desert trails but also provides a glimpse into the modern, vibrant and progressive society of Jordan.

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Are you planning a trip to Amman soon? How about booking your hotel accommodation here?

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Pin it!

amman-darat-al-funun-katpegimana

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*Linking with #CityTripping and #TheWeeklyPostcard

 

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Travel Notes & Beyond

 

 

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35 comments

  1. Somehow, contemporary artwork is not the first thing you think of in a country with so much antiquity. When you see it, though, you realize that artistic expression from culture to culture, country to country, is more similar than not. It’s a good reminder that we all have a past – some deeper than others – and share a present. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  2. Oh, this is really beautiful art! I am not a great fan of modern art, but this is one of a kind. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  3. Really interesting to read about your visit to Amman. I am very intrigued by Jordan and would love to visit one day. Great insight into the capital city. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

  4. This is such a great post – I am one of those people who was whisked straight from Amman to Petra, Madaba and some of the walking routes around the country but I would have loved to explore the capital a little more. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

  5. Very true people only think of Petra! If you stayed in any amazing hotels this year in the Middle East and would like to get involved in a collab post email me at wandermustfamily at wandermustfamily.com

    #Citytripping

  6. I love these places, Kat. Sometimes, it can get artsy, but, there are few gems always worth your time. Interesting the way you say what people say when they hear you’ve travelled to Jordan. 🙂 I think travelling makes us see the world differently – beyond TV, marketing strategies, and even tourism portals. I want to visit Jordan and many more fascinating places in the middle east. I know there’s so much I don’t know. Until then, I’d be reading your posts. 🙂

  7. Love the creativity and flow in this post ~ showing a diverse look into a culture that one day I’d love to take time and get to know better. Cheers to a great weekend.

    1. Hahah, the history stuff is also interesting but too much of it can get a bit much…so it was fun to see this other side of Amman. It’s a really cool city!

  8. Kat, I’m so happy to read this, since it’s rare for me to find an article about ‘what to do and what to see in Amman’. Seems, it’s one of the most nice city in the middle east.

    1. Thanks Bart! Many foreigners who live and work in the Middle East all said the same thing that Amman is one of nicest cities in the region.

  9. Isn’t it lovely to find an artist’s work from your home country overseas! I was so excited when I saw a painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela in the National Gallery in London, even though it was very small 😀 Lucky that you found the fair, nice to get a glimpse into that as well.

  10. It’s really refreshing to explore the contemporary aspect of ancient cities where many people tend to overlook. I was equally impressed by the artwork and photography on display at Istanbul Modern as I consciously went there first before “traveling back in time” to the old city of Sultanahmet.

    Can’t wait to read more on your Jordanian adventure!

    1. Although I’m a history buff, sometimes seeing too much of history can be an overload! Exploring the arts in Amman was quite a refreshing experience. Haven’t been to Istanbul but will note down to visit Istanbul Modern 🙂 Thanks for sharing on twitter – you were the first!

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