During my MA in Curatorial Practice, my thesis was largely project based. I created an artist residency programme in the neighbourhood of Jabal Al Qalaa, in Amman. Ten artists were invited to collaborate, celebrate and work within the context of this hilltop in collaboration with its residents. After thoroughly researching and visiting community and socially engaged Biennials in the UK, I developed a long-term vision of what Jordan’s art scene needed. I was certain that my emerging art community could play a fundamental role in the socio-political and societal development of the country.
Initially I had done extensive research on the different debates and critiques associated with community and urban art. As a result, the works the artists had to produce were ones that were to maintain a balance between function, maintaining its artistic discourse, socially inclusive and steering well away from just being a cosmetic enhancement.
I founded, directed and coordinated the program as well as managed a team of three people, and seven artists. I was also in charge of seeking funding, getting the necessary permission for the artists to create their works publicly, developing a marketing strategy and much more. Our team would meet with the artists on a weekly basis, where their proposals were developed through a series of talks, panel discussions, film screenings and on site contact activities with the community of Jabal Al Qalaa.
One of the artists, Reham Sharbaji, responded to an abandoned bakery which had become a dumping ground for rubbish. After a performance where she wore a protective suit and served bread out of its window, it was finally cleared and restored after by the government. This gesture pressured the Amman Municipality to finally take action, particularly when her performance was broadcast on the news. A local plant nursery swooped in, offering to donate plants that could thrive in this house, given that they would be cared for by the local community. In our naivety, a community garden seemed very befitting as a way of empowering and educating the youth to care for it and nurture it. What we overlooked was the fact that the youth gardeners came from families who could not afford plentiful water for reasons that were considered frivolous. And unfortunately, there was no free public water source, despite our requests for the local mosque or municipality .The garden quickly perished.
Through extensive research into the contemporary art scene in Amman I found that there was a large gap between the people of Amman, who were divided by class, living areas, occupations, religion and more factors. Amman as a city has always felt difficult to navigate in terms of its walkability which I always felt hindered human interactions in the everyday. I also felt that artists should too be given a role in social development, using their talent to address environmental, urban and social issues. The gallery space was proving to be dissatisfying as an enclosed concept and it was time for artists to take their practice a step further.
The residency itself inspired the idea of collaboration, cross-pollination and learning. It opened my eyes to the capabilities of a few artists outside the regular funding spectrums. Although ministries, councils, and the municipality, and even Her Majesty herself offered support (with a price of course), this project was proudly crowdsourced and relied on working solely within the means of the neighborhood and greater community. This project also revealed to us hardships of lives outside of our own, and taught us to prioritise being citizens, before being artists.
None of the artworks were ever signed by the artists. Instead, the works and projects felt like the products of an entire neighborhood. What started off as a 7 artist project, grew into a 25 project platform, with works ranging from performances, workshops, short term interventions but most importantly an experience which ultimately brought people together and inspired us to believe that social change can truely happen through art.
Most of all, the project taught us that solidarity, warmth and love resonates in a community, and that the relationships between the breadth of residents, practitioners, stakeholders, institutions and the government needed to be honed and organised to ensure sustained positive collaboration.
Copyright © 2021 Nahla Tabbaa - All Rights Reserved.