University student Suhaib Attar clutches a can of spray paint as he works on a corner of Amman, Jordan’s capital, that he has turned into his canvas.
The 25-year-old, the leading light of a tiny group of graffiti artists, is on a mission – to paint flowers, faces and patterns across Amman to bring more colour to the lives of its four million inhabitants.
“Our city is beautiful but it needs to be brightened up,” Attar said. The aim is, he says, to “transform these walls of concrete into paintings that are full of life”.
Built on seven hills that give their names to the main districts, Amman has been home to a small graffiti community for some years and, while they may number less than 10, the artists have been busy.
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Their eye-catching designs have begun popping up around the city – especially the oldest Jabal Amman and Jabal al Lweibdeh neighbourhoods, where lots of foreigners live.
Just like in many other forms of expression, their art still faces limits – and Attar said he tends to steer away from politics and religion.
“I avoid topics that may shock people who don’t understand this art yet,” the street artist explained.
Art student Suha Sultan has experienced first-hand the suspicion – and hostility – that sometimes meets her work.
“I was doing a large portrait of a tribal man and passers-by started questioning me, lecturing me because I was up a ladder among a group of men,” she recounted. “They interrogated me about the meaning of my graffiti.”
Sultan said that she wants to use her skills to revitalise the many soulless expanses of wall she sees.
“But to do the graffiti we need to get permission from the municipal authorities or the owner of the building first,” she explains. “Most of the time we get refused.”
Painter Wissam Shadid, 42, agreed that there are lines that cannot be crossed in a society that is steeped in tradition, and where artistic creation can be curbed.
“We paint nature, animals, portraits, but we don’t touch subjects connected to morality,” the street artist said.
But even that makes for an impressive change around the Jordanian capital.
“Before, there were only names of football clubs, phone numbers or messages from guys to their friends scrawled on walls,” Shadid said.
And, as graffiti makes inroads in Jordan, their artwork is increasingly drawing admiration from locals and visitors.
“It adds colour to the city. Buildings here can all look alike,” said Phoebe Carter, an American studying Arabic in the kingdom.
Jordanian Karim Saqr, 22, agreed that the works bring a much-needed splash of excitement.
“When I spend a morning near a wall with beautiful graffiti, it fills me with positive energy for the rest of the day.”