Underground Amman: Where color and culture collide

Reversed poem by mutanabi. (Photo:  Zaina Zinati/Jordan News)
Reversed poem by mutanabi. (Photo: Zaina Zinati/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Where Roman ruins intersect with contemporary towers in Abdali, the underground scene is hard to miss.

As co-founder of Underground Amman, break dancer Alaeddin Rahmeh organizes walking tours that explore the city’s clandestine sites, which showcase its graffitied walls and hip-hop culture. Starting in Jabal Amman, Rahmeh leads groups through Jabal Luweibdeh and Al-Balad.اضافة اعلان

Yaraton piece on refugee children and mental health. (Photo: Zaina Zinati/Jordan News)

The capital’s buildings don hundreds of expressive street artworks — so many that they are now legal.  The murals’ enigmatic designs and anonymous owners give Amman’s underground an overall Banksy-esque atmosphere.

One piece that particularly stands out is a mural by Yaraton, a mental health therapist who works with refugee children. Despite its lively colors, the mural has dark undercurrents; It shows a child with hollowed-out eyes and ears and a missing heart. Rahmeh explains that this is how "Yaraton" sees the displaced children; They are withdrawn and feel unseen, unheard, and unloved.

"The artists are anonymous to the mainstream world, but not to me, not to our small community. For example, Yaraton is someone so amazing and well-known to me, but if you ask someone who isn't part of this community, they wouldn’t know Yaraton, even though her paintings are all over Amman," said Alaeddin Rahmeh in an interview with Jordan News.

Rahmeh is a Palestinian refugee himself. He grew up in Amman and watched the city evolve. This experience, he believes, shaped his current perception of Amman. Many of the pieces Rahmeh addressed in the tour are commentaries on social issues. Inspired by Jordan’s water problem, an artist who goes by “Sardine” depicts a mermaid wearing a t-shirt with a dead fish on it.  Another piece depicts Mahmoud Darwish, a distinguished Palestinian poet, with the words "Ana Araby" or "I am an Arab” written next to him.

"There are different layers. I'm a Palestinian refugee and I am very proud to be Jordanian. There is another layer as well; I am Arab, I am a Muslim, and my father is an imam, a sheikh, if you will. It's a whole story," said Rahmeh.

Mahmoud darwish “ana araby”.  (Photo: Zaina Zinati/Jordan News)

Art, in general, is a form of expression, and the Amman’s art scene likes to express itself. A 600-year-old poem by the Arab poet, Al-Mutanabbi, was reversed by an artist to express a more hopeful message. One of the reversed lines states: "The wind will go as our ships want," encouraging people to overcome obstacles they may face.

During the tour, Rahmeh discloses that, to many people's surprise, around 70 percent of street artists in Amman are women. He theorizes that this is the case because, as opposed to boys, girls are encouraged to express themselves artistically in school.

Rahmeh organizes the tours because he wants people to experience firsthand his love for Amman.

"In general, I want more people to know about the street art in this city, to know there is art here, to visit our city, to love our city. For me, everything about our capital is beautiful. I don't want people to constantly think of trash and dirty streets when they think of Amman because anywhere you go, there are negatives and positives. So, we try and always push the positive first," said Rahmeh.

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