One of Many Stories

Art Worlds in Yemen

Villa Vassilieff
Paris, France
16:00 15 April - 19:00 06 May 2017

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.