Can Amman Really Become the Middle East’s Most Creative City? A look at Amman Design Week 2017

Published October 16th, 2017 - 08:28 GMT
Amman Design Week's main space (Al Bawaba/John Lillywhite)
Amman Design Week's main space (Al Bawaba/John Lillywhite)

 

  • Amman Design Week highlighted local and emerging artists and designers seeking to showcase Jordan's creative scene to the world
  • Artists and designers sought to break the stereotype that Jordan's artists and designers are solely focused on politics or developing solutions-based work to regional problems
  • Many designers cite a lack of resources and exposure, not talent, as the largest obstacles to Amman's creative scene
  • A mixture of regional instability and a growing pool of talent has presented Design Week the opportunity to be the much-needed platform to announce Jordan as a place of serious creative output

 

By Ty Joplin

 

Amman’s Deferred Dream

Entering into Amman Design Week’s main space felt like walking into a realized dream of what some Jordanian artists hope Amman can be.

A well-dressed man stood tall above his design aimed at increasing awareness about Jordan’s water scarcity problem. Riyad Joucka told Al Bawaba that he appreciates Amman’s “young energy,” and hopes Design Week will get Amman the exposure it deserves to get onto the global design scene.

The space that hosted the nine-day long event itself, clean and chic, looked at first glance like it could be placed as any major city’s design weeks, though it is admittedly smaller than its regional counterparts in Dubai and Beirut.

Though Amman’s art and design week is saturated with talent, its market has historically lagged behind its regional competitors. Many in Jordan hope to change this and use Design Week as the much-needed platform to put the fast-growing city’s creative scene on the global map.

Ongoing political conflicts and selective economic development has crippled many of the established creative cities, while artificially inflating others. Damascus, once arguably the center of the Middle East’s art and design scene, has been ravaged by war: artists have fled en masse, grants have dried up and galleries have been bombed and closed.

Though Beirut has remained a regional hub of creative output, Cairo faces similar challenges to Damascus as the 2011 Arab Spring threw the country’s political future into turmoil.

Dubai, flush with state-sponsored cash from its massive oil economy, hosts an internationally recognized Design Week that, according to Ahmad Humeid, the curator of Amman Design Week, looks like “more of a marketplace” for international designers rather than a space to highlight local creativity.

In stark contrast, Amman’s scene is more “indigenous” and “emerging” as an integral center of Middle Eastern creativity according to Humeid.

As it currently stands, Jordan’s designers are mainly relied on for solutions-based designs to regional problems.

“The international community comes to our design scene to look for designers to tackle problems, whether it’s the refugee problem, water resources, political issues…”  Dina Haddadin, one of the lead artists in Jordan and organizers of Design Week tells Al Bawaba.

“It’s sad that [Amman Design Week is] only framed in that picture...  It’s beyond these issues that we tackle...I think we tackle elements of beauty and design, [and] elements of materiality.”

A man appears through a lattice of woven rope and bending rebar, exploring movement through the historical site of Jordan’s Wadi Rum. A project designed by Anmahian Winton Architects Alex Anmahian, Mazen Sakr, and Aaron Bruckerhoff. (Al Bawaba/Salim Essaid)

 

The most evident message designers want to communicate with Design Week is that Jordan knows beauty.

 

Jordan: One of the Most Talented, Least Marketed Scenes

Rawan Kakish and Hamad Al-Sultan’s “A Path of Synergy” (Al Bawaba/Salim Essaid)

 

Rawan Kakish and Hamad Al-Sultan’s piece, 'A Path of Synergy' stood directly in front of all those who entered Design Week’s main space. A series of straight pipes made to appear curved and lined internally with wires and motion sensors, the sculpture contains dozens of sets of wings that interact with passerbys.

Rawan Kakish and Hamad Al-Sultan’s “A Path of Synergy” (Al Bawaba/Salim Essaid)

 

“If we think about Jordan, we have to think about our socioeconomic reality, and of course our geographic reality.” Ahmad Humeid lucidly explains the current obstacles facing Jordan’s emergence as a serious creative force.

Jordan is a small, nearly-landlocked country that has taken in millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Palestine among others. So while international non-profits have saturated Amman, the creative scene has struggled to break out.

“...we have a lot of challenges, the problem is how much does industry and business respect designers and use Jordanian creativity in their products. How much does the public sector recognize designers and their role in the city and the country?” explains Humeid, who is painfully aware of Amman’s comparative disadvantage.

 

 

Nearly every artist interviewed cited their one of their biggest challenges to be the simple fact that Amman is overlooked as a creative center in the region. Potential financial backers and fabricators to help build their ambitious designs look elsewhere, despite the plethora of young talent in the fast-growing city. Many of the projects for Design Week had to be downsized from their original concepts due to budgetary constraints.

Potentially as a result of this, most of the artists who spoke with Al Bawaba were based outside of Jordan, taking their careers to better-resourced cities like Dubai and New York. But they all identify as Jordanian creatives.

When asked one why she had returned to Amman for Design Week despite producing most of her work in other cities, Kakish echoed the sentiment of much of Amman’s semi-displaced art scene: “I’m here because I’m Jordanian.”

HRH Prince Hasan, the brother of the late King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan, holds a crystal-ware vase created by Aymen Azzam. (Al Bawaba/Salim Essaid)

 

Featured designers like Rawan Kakish and Riyad Joucka, who helped to design a structure to illustrate Jordan’s water scarcity problem, hope that Amman Design Week can serve as the much-needed global platform to announce Amman.

So far, it has been quietly received, with small mentions of its happening circulating around local and regional media, and virtually no sign that those in New York, Paris, London, or Tokyo noticed it happen at all.

 

Creative Production Above All Else

While Amman’s scene may have to wait a little longer for its talent to be seen, it will continue to create art and design that further advances a locally informed but globally impactful aesthetic vision.

Since Jordan’s design and art community is so young, the most appropriate place to visit to see the future of Jordanian aesthetics was the Student Exhibition Section. There, amidst a series of other editorial fashion pieces, stood Safia al-Barghouti, a University of Jordan student, and a dress she created.

University of Jordan student, Safia al-Barghouti, showcases her dress at Amman Design Week’s Student Exhibition (Al Bawaba/Ty Joplin)

 

When asked what inspired al-Barghouti to make this piece, she spoke about the Veiled Lady mushroom.

The Veiled Lady Mushroom is porous and ghostly looking. Some of them have bold yellow, membranes similar to al-Barghouti’s accessory, that make the mushroom stand out.

Courtesy of John Hill

 

Al-Barghouti said she wanted to inject natural beauty into Amman; a city made up most mostly beige, cubed buildings.

The dress has nothing to do with regional politics. It’s just a dress.

 

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Amman Design Week sign hangs above The Hangar (Al Bawaba/Salim Essaid)

 


Salim Essaid and John Lillywhite contributed to this report.


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