Sardine is a signature Jordanian ‘Wall Illustrator’ of Armenian descent living in Amman. His street art can be seen throughout the city center, Jabal Weibdeh, and Jabal Amman. He has helped define Jordanian street art by pushing creative boundaries. He started working with graffiti & illustration after 10 years of professionally working in journalism.
Tough one; I do not like to use the word ‘artist’ since I am not classically trained. In order to not get into trouble with the authentic graffiti artists, I started calling myself a ‘wall illustrator’. I am more of a cartoonist or wall illustrator because I draw mostly cartoons including geishas, space ladies, robots, paper boats, and planes, in addition to t-shirt wearing sirens.
I started creating street art after working in journalism for 10 years, where I covered art showcases and galleries. I covered a show at the Four Sights Gallery that revolved around cartoons and thought to myself, “I can do that!”. Then, I participated in a collective skateboard show by Philadelphia Skateboards where I met Graffiti Artist Wise One Wesam Shadid. We both ended up liking each other’s work and stayed in touch.
Eventually, I received a call from Wesam about a graffiti project at the Citadel by the British Council, headed by Alaa Qattam, the Arts Program Manager. For the first two days, I just stared at my wall and thought ‘How am I going to do this? After observing what Wesam was doing I finally did my first piece of a robot with wings that sprayed a word bubble that read “Bekh” which means ‘spray’ and ‘boo’ in Arabic and English. After that, I caught the bug. I realized graffiti is a symbol of freedom. Putting a piece on a wall by itself is an act of rebellion. You are free. It is you, the wall and the public. You showcase your piece to the world and people interact with it positively or negatively. This is why I was encouraged to do it more; it’s the freedom.
By painting inanimate objects, you are able to avoid problematic issues. For example, at the Citadel we had an issue where someone defaced the painted humans, but he did not touch my robot. I figured then that robots are harmless. My robots, geishas, siren, and space girls have not offended anyone yet. I really want to draw a scary alien monster, but it will be interpreted as a satanic symbol. This I attribute to the lack of art education and culture at public and private schools. It is not just about teaching kids to draw but also to teach them about the history of art from all over the world.
My street art/pieces are never political; the only message is to claim your city. My message through street art is to dare, to be different, and bother to do something. A cartoon or tag does not have to be a very strong political message, since the act of graffiti by itself is proof of existence. In some way, you are rebelling and claiming your city. The real spirit of graffiti is not taking permission, it is about putting your tag on any surface.
The entire graffiti movement in its current form started five years ago. Alaaedin Pasha and his crew, Break Fu, were behind some of the early pieces that popped up between 2008 and 2009 in Swefieh, way before the start of the current movement. His street name was Hong and he worked with a friend called Clouds World.
Six years ago Wesam and I became friends and traveled to the United Kingdom together through an art exchange program thanks to Alaa Qattam. Upon returning to Amman, we knew the movement had to start. We started getting walls and doing small scale pieces. We started going out on Fridays, and Saturdays when possible, and painted walls together along with some awesome street real graffiti artists like Axel, Siner, ISP, and Deev Graff. Eventually, we both met Lubna Juqqa, who was working at Al Balad Theatre. Together she and Wesam did the first Baladk festival at the German University Street in Jabal Amman. I was invited a year later and worked with them for the next four festivals.
The movement is quite strong at the moment with wicked artists like Sara Allan, Chaf, Joana Arida, Miramar, Ahmad Wawi, Yazan Bahar, Brams, Ibrahim Qamar, Abood Graffiti, Odai Jalil, Sue, Naji Al Ali (currently in the U.S.), Yartun, Aro and Suhaib Attar. They all grace the streets of our city with their vibrant pieces.
There are many restrictions. Don’t draw political, religious, or sexual themed pieces. Those are the three ‘no-nos’. You can land in jail over such themes; or any ambiguous looking piece. This forces you to be creative. Like what Billy Wilder did with his movies. Keep things subtle and don’t offend as you will hurt the entire movement. My art is up for interpretation by anyone viewing it. What do the paper boats, planes, geishas, robots, and sirens mean?
In spite of the restrictions on themes, the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) has truly embraced the movement and encouraged it by granting us permission to draw on large-scale walls. Foreign artists arriving in our city always gaze in wonder at the work that is being done.
They have some major talents in Lebanon like Kabreet, Wyterex, Oras Pac, Apocaleps, Dew, Ashekman and BrosCrew, and many others. The Lebanese are very liberal when it comes to politics - in terms of speaking their minds about how much politics sucks. Still, they had a crackdown a couple of years ago. I remember reading that the Lebanese army arrested a number of artists over a political message. Yet the Lebanese artists still paint beautiful and dope pieces.
I lived in Syria for six years and never saw any graffiti or painted phrases on the walls. If you visit Babtouma, Al Salhiya or Al Qasa’a you would not find any writings or drawings on the wall. I think graffiti wasn’t known yet, but I am sure it will one day start there. The street art movements all differ between the Levant countries.
As I mentioned, drawing anything on a wall is an act of rebellion. An artistic statement. I am here. I am different. Look at the difference within your own society. We are not all the same. There is no one template.
The graffiti scene is now quite the scene and is continuously growing. Art is an instigator as it touches on various nerves. You always have different reactions. I know no matter what I draw on a wall, I will get a reaction one way or the other. A good reaction is when someone else says “I can do the same” and then paints a wall with his/her lines and colors. Whenever I see kids out in the streets, I always start a conversation with them. I explain to them what street art is and they always smile. I tell them to always draw and never shy away from their own lines. Art is very individualistic; don’t draw by committee. I am constantly trying to ‘spray claim’ my city.
A special thanks to OG street artist, Amr Abu Eitah (Clouds World) for his videography and dope editing skills.