Amman Lab Leads a Mosaic Workshop with the Institute for Traditional Islamic Art and Architecture and the El-Hassan Youth Awards

Greta Byrum M.S. UP '11


In traditional Islamic arts, the mosaic represents a reflection of the divine as a form of sacred geometry. For our Urban Planning studio, the mosaic would represent the pattern of collaboration around the community of Russeifeh, a new beginning and an expression of mutual commitment. As a community outreach project it was CUMERC's and Amman Lab's first, and hopefully inaugural, effort to bring design arts into the greater Amman community.

Hana M. Hijazi, a professor at the Institute for Traditional Islamic Art and Architecture, had originally initiated the idea of hosting a community mosaic workshop with Russeifeh youth back in March. She and her students, along with the El-Hassan Youth Awards (an incredibly resourceful CBO active across Jordan), brought together a group of teenagers, 30 girls and boys ages 13 to 16, to a classroom in Russeifeh.

When we first arrived the kids seemed a bit skeptical. They had no idea what to expect, and many of them said they had never experienced an art class before. Following a short presentation by Hana explaining the basics of the mosaic design and sacred geometry, we got to work. Hana and her students had separated the design (the work of one of her young students) into three sections, and had a team of kids on each, with her students assisting.

All the participants clustered around their tables, heads bent over their work, using very fine brushes to outline designs in gold, black, and a deep, rich blue. Pamela Puchalski (MsUP ’11) and I settled in to trace and paint alongside, and we all entered a kind of pleasant state of rapt concentration, trying to pick out the incredibly fine, intertwining lines of the design.
It took about three hours to fill in the pattern. By the end, most of the kids had paint not only all over their hands but were painting each other's names on their t-shirts. By the time Hana's students put the pieces of the mosaic together, and added the final touch: the title ("Russeifeh in the Eyes of Its Youth") everyone was tired and happy and proud of themselves!

Naturally, we took several group photos of all the kids with their work. At one point, the kids holding the mosaic almost dropped it by accident. As it started slipping to the floor, an audible gasp emanated from the crowd and several kids dove to save it. "That was my favorite part," Hana later told me on the bus ride back to Amman, "because it showed that they had truly come to care about the work."