Jordan's Plastic Trash Turned into Art with a Message

Maria Nissan turns plastic waste collected from the streets of Jordan's capital into art in an effort to persuade people against single-use plastics Khalil MAZRAAWI AFP
Maria Nissan turns plastic waste collected from the streets of Jordan's capital into art in an effort to persuade people against single-use plastics Khalil MAZRAAWI AFP
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Jordan's Plastic Trash Turned into Art with a Message

Maria Nissan turns plastic waste collected from the streets of Jordan's capital into art in an effort to persuade people against single-use plastics Khalil MAZRAAWI AFP
Maria Nissan turns plastic waste collected from the streets of Jordan's capital into art in an effort to persuade people against single-use plastics Khalil MAZRAAWI AFP

Jordan-based artist Maria Nissan is on a mission: to rid the world of single-use plastics and to raise public awareness about the environmental scourge through eye-catching art.

One of her best-known murals graces the side of a building in the capital Amman, a giant work made from more than 2,000 plastic bottles, almost 1,000 shopping bags and over 150 hookah pipe hoses, AFP said.

A US citizen of Iraqi origin, Nissan said she became enchanted with Amman when she first visited three years ago, but also felt "frustration and anger" at the piles of garbage on the streets and in areas of natural beauty.

"Despite the beauty of the city, walking its streets can be a journey filled with all kinds of trash," the 35-year-old said.

"My eyes cannot turn away from the abundant shiny plastic bags, glass bottles, soda cans, candy bar wrappers," said Nissan, who occasionally sports a dress made from a sturdy blue Ikea bag.

Trained in painting and drawing in the United States and Italy, Nissan decided to collect and repurpose the trash to create art -- often collages themed on women's faces, flowers and Oriental motifs.

Her home, where she has a rooftop workspace under a large canopy, is filled with every imaginable kind of discarded plastic object, from razors and toothbrushes to lighters, pens and plastic spoons.

"Art made of plastic is a concrete and powerful way to raise concerns on environmental issues that affect Jordanians, their children, their communities and natural environments in the kingdom," she said.

- 'Everybody's problem' -
"A bottle littered in a valley will take up to 450 years to decompose," said Nissan, pointing out that the effect is "micro-plastics polluting the soils, water and the wildlife.

"Because plastics are littered indiscriminately in fields and water, livestock and fish feed themselves indirectly with plastic pieces that we will ultimately find on our plates."

Nissan's work has been exhibited in 12 shows in Jordan as well as in Italy and Greece, and features on her Instagram channel @marianissanart, all with the purpose of changing minds and habits.

Jordanians use three billion plastic bags every year, part of the country's annual solid waste load of 2.2 million tons, of which only seven percent is recycled, according to the UN Development Program.

Nissan urges people to avoid buying plastic products and to go shopping with reusable bags, and also advocates a tax on single-use plastics.

"The consequences of single-use plastic pollution are often delayed, and therefore it is difficult to have people feel accountable and responsible for their own acts," she said.

"Plastic comes back to us in one way or another ... It's nobody's responsibility until it becomes everybody's problem."



Mexico City Neighborhood Keeps Iconic Volkswagen Beetle Alive 

People walk past vintage Volkswagen Beetles, known in Mexico as "vochos," ahead of a parade, a day after World Vocho Day, in Mexico City, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP)
People walk past vintage Volkswagen Beetles, known in Mexico as "vochos," ahead of a parade, a day after World Vocho Day, in Mexico City, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP)
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Mexico City Neighborhood Keeps Iconic Volkswagen Beetle Alive 

People walk past vintage Volkswagen Beetles, known in Mexico as "vochos," ahead of a parade, a day after World Vocho Day, in Mexico City, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP)
People walk past vintage Volkswagen Beetles, known in Mexico as "vochos," ahead of a parade, a day after World Vocho Day, in Mexico City, Sunday, June 23, 2024. (AP)

Janette Navarro’s 1996 Volkswagen Beetle roars as it barrels up a steep hill overlooking concrete houses stacked like boxes on the outskirts of Mexico City.

She presses her foot on the pedal, passes a lime green Beetle like hers, then one marked with red and yellow, then another painted a bright sea blue.

“No other car gets up here,” she said. “Just the vocho.”

The Volkswagen Beetle, or “vocho” as it’s known in Mexico, may have been born in Germany, but in this hilly neighborhood on the fringes of Mexico City, there’s no doubt about it: The "Bug” is king.

The Beetle has a long history in the country’s sprawling capital. The old-school models like these — once driven as taxis — used to dot city blocks as the quirky look captured the fascination of many around the world. It was long known as “the people’s car.”

But after production of older models halted in Mexico in 2003, and the newer versions in 2019, the Bug population is dwindling in the metro area of 23 million people. But in the northern neighborhood of Cuautepec, classic Beetles still line the streets — so much so that the area has been nicknamed “Vocholandia.”

Taxi drivers like Navarro say they continue to use the vochos because the cars are inexpensive and the engine located in the back of the vehicle gives it more power to climb the neighborhood's steep hills.

Navarro began driving Beetles for work eight years ago as a way to feed her three children and put them through school.

“When they ask me what I do for work, I say proudly that I’m a vochera (a vocho driver),” Navarro said a day before the International Day of the VW Beetle on Saturday. “This work keeps me afloat ... It’s my adoration, my love.”

While some of the older cars wobble along, paint long faded after years of wear and tear, other drivers dress their cars up, keeping them in top shape.

One driver has named his bright blue car “Gualupita” after his wife, Guadalupe, and adorns the bottom with aluminum flames blasting out from a VW logo. Another painted their VW pink and white, sticking pink cat eyes on the front headlights.

Mechanics in the area, though, say driving vochos is a dying tradition. David Enojosa, a car mechanic, said his family’s small car shop in the city used to sell parts and do maintenance primarily on Beetles. But since Volkswagen halted production five years ago, parts have been harder to come by.

“With the current trend, it will disappear in two or three years,” Enojosa said, his hands blackened by car grease. “Before we had too many parts for vochos, now there aren’t enough ... So they have to look for parts in repair shops or junkyards.”

As he spoke, a customer walked up carrying a worn down bolt, looking for a replacement for his Volkswagen’s clutch.

The customer, Jesús Becerra, was in luck: Enojosa strolled out of his shop holding a shiny new bolt.

Less lucky drivers have to do laps around the neighborhood looking for certain parts. Even more cars fall into disrepair and don’t pass emissions inspections.

But Becerra is among those who believed that the vochos will endure in his neighborhood.

“You adapt them, you find a way to make it keep running,” he said. “You say, ‘We’re going to do this, fix it and let’s go.’”

Others like Joaquín Peréz say continuing to drive his 1991 white, Herbie-style Beetle is a way to carry on his family tradition. He grew up around Bugs, he explained as his car rumbled. His father was a taxi driver just like him and he learned how to drive in a VW.

Now, 18 years into working as a driver himself, his dashboard is lined with trinkets from his family. A plastic duck from his son, a frog stuffed animal from his daughter and a fabric rose from his wife.

“This area, always, always since I can remember has been a place of vochos,” he said. “This here is the car of the people.”