Artist turns heads to injustice, oppression through canvas, film

Copy of Blind Humanity
(Photo: Handouts from Lina Abojaradeh)
AMMAN — Through art and storytelling, Lina Abojaradeh aims to “give a voice to the voiceless.” The Palestinian-Jordanian artist, filmmaker and social entrepreneur stands for her beliefs by depicting injustice and oppression. اضافة اعلان

Abojaradeh, who uses political cartoons, paintings and videos to express her ideas, tackles a variety of sociopolitical issues.

Following last October’s brutal assault of 16-year old Saleh, who many later dubbed “Zarqa boy”, Abojaradeh filmed a one-minute TikTok video showing a time-lapse of the her sketching Saleh with Superman’s “S” on his chest.

In the video, Abojaradeh tells the teenager’s story of tragedy and hope. “…superheroes do exist. They can exist in the form of a 16 year old whose superpower is faith…,”the artist says, as she adds finishing touches of shade and color to the sketch.  

Outraged by the loss of seven lives at Al-Salt hospital, last march, following the depletion of oxygen, Abujaradeh sketched a cartoon depicting a hospital patient reaching out for a helping hand, but being held down and muzzled by two formally-clad hands. The sleeves read: “corruption” and “curfew”.

“We are losing lives not only due to the pandemic, but rather viruses worse than COVID that exist in our society, where corruption has become deep-rooted,” Abojaradeh told Jordan News in an interview.

With almost 16,000 followers on Facebook alone, Abojaradeh’s work continues to gain traction widely popular. But the popularity comes at cost.

“Generally, I do not get paid for artwork about (social) causes, but the one thing I expect from people when using my paintings is simply to give me credit for my time, effort, and experience,” she said, recounting instances of media outlets using her work but erasing her signature and neglecting to give her credit.

Abojaradeh’s artistic takes on grave issues has also opened the door for harsh criticism from those who she says believe her to be “exposing” problems in the community.

“I make art because I love Jordan and hope for a better society. Pointing out our problems leads us to solutions!” she countered.

To Abojaradheh, art can be a much-needed extension to traditional media, with the former highlighting what the latter shies away from. “Since mainstream media is very selective with what it shows, aI believe an artist can be the alternative media that portrays bigger and sensitive stories,” she said.

Abojaradeh, who holds a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering, explained that pursuing a master’s degree in global affairs abroad polished her knowledge of world issues.

She was the first Palestinian-Jordanian to receive the Schwarzman Scholarship, which funded her master’s degree at Tsinghua University in China. “My experiences and study gave me the background to create more art and (gave me) inspiration,” she added.

As a teenager, art helped Abojaradeh overcome a difficult transition from the US to Jordan.

From a bookshop next to her school, she bought a watercolor set and started by painting natural scenery. “Surprisingly, painting felt just like magic! Stress, sadness, and drama all just went away,” she recalled.

Later, however, Abojaradeh began to incorporate aspects of the social and political into her work after a strike of inspiration from a painting Palestinian artists, Tamam Al-Akhal and Ismail Shammout, which she explained depicted the “expulsion of Palestinian people from Jaffa” — her indigenous city.

According to Abojaradeh, art is perceived to be for “the privileged or upper classes who can afford its costs.” However, she believes in making art accessible to even people in deprived areas, such as “in parts of east Amman, refugee camps, communities of people with special abilities, and remote locations.”

After six years of volunteering, Abojaradeh has now established “ArchiSmile”, an NGO focused on “embedding the culture of art in Jordan, allowing underserved youth to access art.”

The program, which started with painting murals at schools and hospitals, has so far reached over 7,000 schoolchildren, 150 youth volunteers, and 1,000 youth with disabilities or in refugee camps.

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