OFF THE SIDE STREET OF RAINBOW, and wedged between the limestone buildings of Amman, up a flight of stairs, you will see the unusually – for Amman – red painted door leading into Rima’s store, Love on a Bike.
Rima, who studied in Kentucky, USA, before returning to Amman to open Love on a Bike explains how she’s dealt with government suspicion, unfriendly neighbours and 9/11, and managed to find the funny side of things.
I don’t like talking about art. It may seem stand off-ish, but I paint for personal reasons and I don’t like talking about them. It was really weird when I first opened Love on a Bike because people would buy these postcards that I painted for very specific people, for very specific reasons. One of two things would happen. Either they would ask me what they mean, or they would start talking about them in the context of their own lives. That would piss me off. Now I would rather have them come to their own conclusions as to what it means.
I do mural work, and there is no one in this country that does it to the scale I do. If they do, they do it to such a smaller extent. I’m not being cocky, this is just a fact, I have the most extensive portfolio when it comes to mural painting of anybody in this country. Indoors, outdoors, I have painted an elevator shaft, a roof, everything.
Some guys came to arrest me when I was painting a mural. They took my ID and money and made me speak to their superior on the phone, who said my painting was devil and Satan worshiping imagery. I said, ‘No, it’s birds and houses and clouds! I have been painting here for two months, it’s not like I could run back and cover it up.’
A lot of assumptions are made about my art that are just not true. But the one I hate most of all, is that I paint ‘children’ or that my art is for children. Some of them are drinking wine! Like, obviously they are not kids.
When I opened Love on a Bike, I didn’t take a day off for three and a half years. I started Love on a Bike when I was 23. I was somewhat young, and weird and I didn’t know what I was doing. From the year I decided to open, I did not stop once and think ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ Opening a place in Jordan. It makes no sense! Back then it was the only place of its kind.
This entire country is beige. I think they just look out in the desert and think, yes, beige is a good colour, and they just go with it. Beige! It’s not an offensive colour, but...
Love on a Bike has been investigated. At first, I didn’t realise it was the secret police because they look like you and me. The weird thing about it was that it was two guys. Guys in this country would rather die than come together to a place called Love on a Bike. Their whole premise for the investigation was that, if I was doing what I claim to be doing, then I should be out of business.
I would love to live in a country where I can vote, and it would matter. Where my taxes go to something positive, that would be good for my life. I feel like I have been back for 7 years, started a business, and I am doing my best, and, I am getting nothing in return.
When I moved to the States, I remember watching the news. And there was like ‘Student of the Week’ on the News! And I was like ‘What the fuck?!’ Real news goes on the news. We are so used to our news being all about wars and there is something to report every single day. Maybe not in Jordan, but regionally, there is always something happening.
England is the only country in the whole world, where claiming that you are from the Middle East is better then saying you are from America. I would stop and ask people for directions, and they would be such assholes. And they would mention something about me being from America, and I was like, no, I am from the Middle East. And they would be so nice. They are going to be nicer to you and not call you a terrorist.
I was in America when 9/11 happened. I got put on a watch list from 2003-2007. They just stopped me at the airport and were like ‘we’re putting you on the list’. We were all in this big room. Every time a plane landed they would take the Arabs, the Indians and maybe Pakistanis. And Germans. Oddly enough.
When it was finally my turn for the interview, the guy was like ‘you are too americanised – the long hair, the nose ring.’ My people invented the nose ring! Ten days later I had to go for an interview. Then a month after that, I would have to go to another interview. Then every time I would leave or come back I would have to go to another interview.
A few months before I opened up Love on a Bike, the last time I was there, I went to do my interview. And the guy was like ‘ Why are you here?’. I was like, ‘My interview’. He said, ‘You are not on the list.’ I told him, ‘I have been on the list for four years.’ He just said, ‘Well, that was a mistake, I apologise’.
Now, they are funny stories! When it’s your life, it’s your life. You deal with it. Whatever comes.
I love that Love on a Bike has lasted as long as it has, because there is no logical reason for why it happened! In Jordan! You make it past the first year, and second, it’s really exciting. Then the 3rd year, and it’s like, seriously? And now, five years later, it’s kind of incredible. I like that in Jordan, to a certain degree, if you are really good at what you do, and you work really hard, you can get something done.
Interview: Siobhan Frost
Edited by: Angharad Jones