One of Many Stories
Art Worlds in Yemen
ONE OF MANY STORIESArt Worlds in Yemen
Hashem Ali, Abdallah al-Ameen, Boushra Almutawakel, Yasser al-Ansi, Elham al-Arashi, Archives of the newspaper 14 October (Aden), Nasser al-Aswadi, Ali Baraas, Contemporary Art Group, Mohamed Abdo Dail, Ali al-Dharhani, Amal Fadhel, Ali Abdo al-Faqiyya, Fine Arts Institute (Aden), the Free Workshop (Aden), French Center for Archeology and Social Sciences (Sana’a), Bayt al-Halaqa, Abbas al-Junaydi, Kawn Foundation (Sana’a), Ahmed al-Kharazi, Guillaume Merere, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Yemen, Fuad al-Muqbil, Talal al-Najjar, Amna al-Nassiri, Abdallah Obeid, Marine Poirier, Reema Qasem, Nasser al-Qawi, Farid Sameed, The Atelier (Sana’a), Soviet Cultural Center (Aden), Jameel Subay, Murad Subay, Surikov State Academy Art Institute (Moscow), Union of Visual Artists, Abdul Rahman Taha, Awraq al-Tashkiliyya, Jacques Veerman, Ali Mohamed Yahya, …
Curator: Anahi Alviso-Marino
By tracing both personal and collective trajectories to question the role of the artist in Yemeni society, One of Many Stories seeks to restore the multiple art worlds in contemporary Yemen. This sociological question is articulated throughout the constellation of documents and artworks presented in the exhibition and through different approaches: How does one become an artist in Yemen? How is this process historicized? What is the relationship between Yemeni artists and state institutions? How do they attempt to contest or circumvent authoritarian power? How do Yemeni artists relate to the rest of the world?
Yemen, situated at the South Western point of the Arabian Peninsula, is one of the poorest countries of the region and is historically marked by great political instability. Today, it is branded by the media coverage of violence, terrorism and civil war. Often, the question “is there Yemeni art?” summarises the various interrogations that emerge in organizing an exhibition about Yemen’s art worlds. The question itself reveals a lack of available tools to appreciate modern and contemporary Yemeni visual art, particularly when the observer is foreign, understands different aesthetic valorizations, and when there is a virtual absence of sources on this field. The exhibition thus seeks to rectify this by presenting a rich, varied and eclectic source of documents.
Collected during fieldwork conducted from 2008 to 2011 as part of a doctorate in political sociology, the exhibited documents were donated either by artists or were part of materials that were recorded, photographed and archived during this research. By studying and exhibiting these documents and by proposing to observe through them the interdependences between artists and political actors, the exhibition proposes a different image of Yemen. These collaborative and competitive interdependencies reveal underlying relations of domination, whose mechanisms can be, and have been, creative and productive. While indeed state institutions play a fundamental role in the emergence of artistic scenes in Aden and Sana’a, artists equally accompany this creation, consolidation and questioning of political regimes. For instance, certain artists represent the ideals of the Socialist political project in former South Yemen; they project and materialize Yemen’s unity through paintings and posters, or they document through photography the contentious mobilizations of 2011.
Other elements emerge from the gaps that appear while reconstructing a history of art worlds and their interactions with political powers and social order. The personal trajectories of Yemeni artists are one of such elements — the journey of Hashem Ali and Ali Ghaddaf to Kuwait in the 1970s, Elham al-Arashi’s education in Moscow in the 1980s, the creation of the al-Halaqa group in Sana’a in the 1990s, Jameel Subay’s involvement in the contentious mobilizations of 2011, the ongoing street art campaigns initiated by Murad Subay. These micro-histories, which are retraced using a series of documents, highlight singular individualities and complex and cosmopolitan artistic trajectories.
The exhibition implicitly reveals the complexities of retracing an art history of a country stuck in war – the escalation of armed conflict since the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 has developed into a civil war, intensified by the military intervention led by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of countries supported by by France among other states. Some of the exhibited documents and artworks bear the mark of their history – Amna al-Nassiri’s slightly damaged painting and Talal al-Najjar’s drawings that were forced to be preserved outside of Yemen – and, equally, the absence of other underlines the difficulty of continuing fieldwork in such a context. With the impossibility of knowing what remains from the current bombings in Yemen, a simple photocopy thus changes its status, becoming as valuable as an original document, facing the same possibility of destruction.
Anahi Alviso-Marino is currently a FMSH/CEFAS postdoctoral fellow and an associated researcher at the CESSP/France and CRAPUL/Switzerland. She obtained her doctorate in Political Science at the University Paris 1-Sorbonne and the University of Lausanne, researching the political sociology of visual arts in Yemen. The Societé Academique Vaudoise in Switzerland awarded her dissertation, and it also received a special mention from the jury of the 2016 Dissertation Prize on the Middle East and Muslim Worlds (IISMM and GIS), France and an honorable mention from the 2017 Rhonda A. Saad Prize committee, United States. Her current projects focus on archival and ethnographic research in visual arts in Gulf countries such as Kuwait and Oman. Her publications include peer-reviewed articles, popular pieces, book chapters and curatorial projects.