Last week’s gathering of 20 Jordanian artists marks what may be an important first step towards investment funding for the country’s artistic scene. The local artists were showcasing their work for the launch of the Oasis500 Creative Industries Fund, a newly formed creative arm of the leading investment company, which, according to one of the launch event organizers, will aim to support “visionaries across MENA to transform their innovative ideas into thriving businesses.”
Financial investments of at least JD 22,000 (just over $31,000 USD), along with a 100-day incubation period, complete with business training and in-kind services, will be granted to sustainable projects in the fields of industrial design, architecture, online media, and fashion, among others.
Robert Carroll, a lead on the Oasis500 Investments team, says that he hopes the fund will provide “opportunities to scale the artists’ operations and expose their work to more people. That could mean investors, customers, or experts in the region.”
Highlighting current trends and Jordan’s diverse art scene, the launch event also announced a platform for a creative entrepreneurship ecosystem. Covering a range of mediums from fine art to fashion, photography, film, musical performance and installation art, almost all of the artists were present and open to discussing their work and the inspiration behind it.
Many drew from Jordan’s land and history. Ayman Namrouqa used wood, turquoise, coal, sand, and a combination of other natural materials for his 22-piece exhibition Spaces Beyond Earth. “We have Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba… each place is a source of medium and a source of historical knowledge for me. I use these materials to show how elements of the universe interact over hundreds of thousands of years to create some of Jordan’s most beautiful treasures.”
Likewise photographer Bashar Tabbeh, who has captured ancient landscapes in over ten countries, has dedicated his most recent work to shedding light on Jordan’s ruins, particularly those not listed in your standard guide book: “At the end of the day I shoot for myself, but by extension, I also get to educate locals on the undiscovered ruins that [dot] our landscape.”
AlWajd, founder of Mugshot Productions, took a more human approach, expressing Amman’s blend of nationalities and heritage through three video art installations.
The IT sector rests at the forefront of Jordan’s national policy for SME development; as a result the creative industry has received little in the way of support, from either public or private entities. In addition to weak enforcement of intellectual property rights and numerous regulatory challenges, artists lack a support system and space in which they can gather and share. Randa, a painter and architect says that “there are a lot more artists than there are spaces to hold the work they produce,” noting that artists usually wait one to two years for their work to be displayed after first approaching a gallery.
Randa uses alternative mediums — coffee or leftover charcoal from her kitchen grill — to draw figures that exude warmth and authenticity. These figures’ expressions reflect her own ponderings on life as well as stories told to her by women in her local community. Though her work has attracted some attention in Amman, she has found that the demand is highest in the U.S. and Japan.
Without an established local network or channels for funding, most Jordanian artists resort to self-promoting their work through social media, often in addition to working full-time jobs. Those who wish to engage more fully seek entry to markets in Europe and the U.S., where calls for portfolios are continuous and customers pay top dollar for fresh talent.
The Oasis500 Creative Industries Fund wants to change this dynamic. Randa felt that above all, the exhibition gave her the opportunity to meet other creative types going through similar challenges: “I only knew a few artists before the event. It was incredible to talk to others with similar passions, who probably only live five minutes from my door. I found it comforting to find a forum where we could all connect.”
The fund has broad coverage, both geographically and in terms of the spectrum of fields it considers. While its efforts on their own may be insufficient to change the course of an entire industry, Oasis500 may have the potential to kick-start a wave of dialogue, investment, and enthusiasm for artists across the MENA region.