A flourishing art scene might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Amman, Jordan's capital that stretches out over seven hills and beyond, but recently a flurry of traditional and contemporary galleries have sprung up across the metropolis, attracting a wonderful and perhaps surprising array of local and international artists.
Art seems to be popping up around every corner in Amman © Yulia Denisyuk / Lonely Planet
Art lovers in Amman can get their fix by tracking down works by emerging local and regional artists, classic Arabic art, visual and auditory installations, workshop studios and exhibitions dedicated to prints and paper. The collective body of work on display throughout Amman deals with everything from tough political issues in the Middle East (such as the status of land in the Palestinian Territories), everyday routine matters (the pressure of social media and keeping up with the neighbours) and universal themes (nostalgia and displacement of indigenous people), revealing a fresh way to get under the skin of Amman and learn about the rich backgrounds of the people who live and create their work here.
Darat Al Funun
The highlights of the Amman art scene would not be complete without Darat Al Funun, one of the city’s oldest galleries, spread over six historical buildings on a hill overlooking downtown. Located in hip Jebel Lweibdeh, Darat Al Funun is an important establishment that has supported artists from the Arab world since 1988. Merging visual arts with new media, performances and film, the gallery is at the forefront of cultural life in Amman and regularly hosts events and concerts, an in-house residency for rising stars of the local and international scene, as well as The Lab, an experimental space for innovative projects and workshops. Recent participants at The Lab learned how to reuse industrial scrap alongside local architect Mais Al Azab.
Walk through the doors of Dar Al-Anda to escape the hustle and bustle of Amman © Yulia Denisyuk / Lonely Planet
Start your exploration of Amman’s galleries at the hillside Dar Al-Anda. Meaning ‘home of the giving’ in Arabic, the gallery has one of the city’s most extensive private collections. Stepping through the high-arched doorway into the gallery grounds feels like entering a sanctuary to take temporary refuge from the bustle of the city outside. Emerging and high-profile artists from Japan, Norway and Spain are among some of the countries represented here, but the gallery’s collection also features works by iconic names in the modern Arab art world such as Dia Al-Azzawi, an Iraqi master artist who blends modern techniques with ancient traditions in his surrealistic works full of whimsy and abstract. And it’s not just the inside of the gallery that’s magnificent: the panoramic views of the city are an added bonus to visiting this Jebel Lweibdeh favourite.
Wadi Finan features a beautiful exhibit by celebrated Jordanian sculptor Katia Al Tal © Yulia Denisyuk / Lonely Planet
Wadi Finan Art Gallery
A relative newcomer to the Amman art scene, Wadi Finan Art Gallery has established itself as a contemporary cultural heavyweight, featuring works by Egyptian, Syrian, Palestinian and Jordanian artists. Conveniently situated near the famous Rainbow St in Jebel Amman, the gallery offers two locations: a permanent collection hall on Yousef Asfour St and an exhibition hall just across the road in a restored historical residence. Wadi Finan showcases multimedia works in addition to paintings, but its unique draw in the Amman art landscape is the focus on special projects and community collaborations, such as art therapy workshops for refugees. The permanent collection hall features Elysian, an exhibit by the renowned Jordanian sculptor Katia Al Tal that brings to life the artist’s vision of the 3Cs (clay, calligraphy and creativity), in which she designs clay pieces that use elements of traditional calligraphy in an original, creative way. In the exhibition hall, a massive installation by multimedia artist Raya Kassesieh called Amalgamate takes cues from the contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in its mirrored room of hanging ceramics, byproducts of art therapy sessions for local adults with special needs. The installation gives new purpose to the multicoloured pieces as it explores the unifying power of art to heal viewers and creators alike.
Nabad's 'Trendsetting' exhibition is an annual highlight of Amman's art scene, and the eighth instalment focuses on mixing art and fashion © Yulia Denisyuk / Lonely Planet
Nabad Art Gallery
Located mere steps from Wadi Finan in Jebel Amman, a historically elite neighbourhood where majestic villas line the quiet streets, Nabad Art Gallery is a beautiful contemporary art space with a cosy, orange-tree-laden courtyard and a multiroom exhibition area housed in a particularly grand 1930s residence. The gallery is worth exploring for its annual ‘Trendsetting’ exhibition series that focuses on the art of design, with conceptual pieces created specifically for the show by local artists, interior designers and architects. The current show, now in its eighth edition, examines the crossover between the artist and the fashion designer with wearable pieces of art from Iraqi, Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and Jordanian artists.
The hip prints and paper displayed at Jacaranda Images can also be picked up as a souvenir to take home © Yulia Denisyuk / Lonely Planet
Jacaranda Images is the only gallery in Amman dedicated solely to all things paper. This two-room exhibition space and art shop in Jebel Amman features a collection of contemporary Indigenous Australian art, providing a unique opportunity to compare two different desert cultures. Described by some visitors as a ‘funky’ gallery, Jacaranda Images carries an impressive compilation of print, photography, drawings, sketches, etchings and screenprints. Come here to pick up a Jordanian art souvenir on a budget or explore a different, and sometimes provocative, way to think about the world.
Orfali Art Center
Founded by the late Iraqi artist Inaam Orfali in 1993, Orfali has grown to be one of the leading galleries in Amman, displaying works by select Jordanian, Iraqi and other Arab artists. Tucked away in a quiet spot of the busy, commercial Um Uthaina neighbourhood, Orfali became more than an exhibition space when it opened a creation space next to the original gallery. With a vision to provide a gathering place for people to indulge their creativity, Orfali Art Center offers an impressive lineup of classes for adults and children ranging from drawing and painting to ceramics and sculpture making, all taught by Jordanian and Iraqi artists. There’s also an annual week-long summer camp for kids that hosts trips to local museums and a nearby farm. Regular book signings and musical evenings round out Orfali’s busy cultural schedule.
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