Yemen Fantasticality

Contemporary Artists from Yemen

Yemen Fantasticality (2015) by Contemporary Artists from YemenImago Mundi








Fantasticality 


Do you know the difference between the intelligent man and the wise man? The intelligent man is capable of overcoming problems and difficulties, the wise man would have avoided in the first place. Yusef Becher, Yemenite rabbi 

Alhara (Neighborhood), Amany Mahdi Al-Mansoob, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Alhara (Neighborhood) (2015) by Amany Mahdi Al-Mansoob

“There isn’t a palm tree in the whole of Yemen, but one feels a deeper fantasticality that comes from its wonderful, vertical architecture of tall and poor houses, side by side in the narrow streets. Yemen is the most beautiful country in the world. Sana’a, the capital, is a wild Venice in the dust, without San Marco and without Giudecca: a città-forma, a city whose beauty lies not in its perishable monuments, but in its incomparable design. One of the few cities where a planner should leave the exteriors untouched and work only on the interiors.” These are the words of Pier Paolo Pasolini, who filmed ‘Arabian Nights’ (originally ‘Il fiore delle Mille e una Notte) in Yemen and who dedicated a documentary to the walls of Sana’a in 1971: an appeal to UNESCO, accepted a decade later, which would save the city from the ‘modernizing’ destruction that was slowly eroding it.

Portrait, Aymen Ali Ahmed Othman, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Portrait (2015)
by Aymen Ali Ahmed Othman

Among the poorest countries in the world, today Yemen is living through a painful civil war: a chaotic melting pot in which, according to eminent international observers, extremist groups, Sunni tribes, Shiite groups, regional and global powers are all involved. A tangle of factions that threatens not only the political integrity of the country, but also the extraordinary richness of its cultural heritage.

Popular Culture Icon, Hisham Abdullah Mohammed Algilany, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Popular Culture Icon (2015) by Hisham Abdullah Mohammed Algilany

Yemen was once the fabled land of the kingdom of Sheba. It grew rich from the trade of frankincense and myrrh that were only produced in a limited area in the south of the Arabian Peninsula; these substances were highly prized in ancient times, since the days of the Egyptians. Incense was used for religious ceremonies and funeral rites, myrrh for the preparation of cosmetics and medicines. Along with gold, they were the precious gifts brought by the Magi to the infant Jesus.

Accumulation of Time, Mohammed Ahmed Abdulkhalik, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Accumulation of Time (2015)
by Mohammed Ahmed Abdulkhalik


Yemen’s geographical position as a crossroads between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean has favoured, over the centuries, the arrival of travellers, conquerors and merchants, as well as the passage and influx of many cultures, from Greek to Chinese.

Untiled, Nusaiba Sadiq Sultan, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untiled (2015)
by Nusaiba Sadiq Sultan

These commercial and cultural fusions testify to Yemen’s long tradition as a stable and prosperous land – Arabia felix for the Romans – as well as a tolerant society, where people of different religions could live peacefully side by side. Where, until recently, the Yemenite Jews, although highly orthodox, could chew ‘khat’ (the leaves of a plant, the edulis catha, that induce euphoria and elation) with their Muslim neighbours.

Yemeni Face, Rwaida Abdul-Rahman Hussien Ahmed, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Yemeni Face (2015)
by Rwaida Abdul-Rahman Hussien Ahmed

Today, regrettably, the conflict threatens Yemeni artistic masterpieces like the Great Dam of Ma’rib – an engineering wonder of the first millennium BC that made lush gardens and rich crops possible in the desert – hit and damaged during an air attack.

Sana’a, Saleh Awad Aboud Al-Shabibi, 2014, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Sana’a (2014) by Saleh Awad Aboud Al-Shabibi

With almost 24 million inhabitants, Yemen is the most populous nation on the Arabian Peninsula after Saudi Arabia. The difficult conditions in the country, coupled with the ensuing extreme poverty, are the main factors that push children and young Yemenis – many of them aged between 13 and 16 years – to take up arms and fight in opposing factions, as a series of interviews conducted by the Washington Post with their families and human rights activists brought to light.

Setarah, Salwa Mohammed Al Matary, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Setarah (2015)
by Salwa Mohammed Al Matary

Needless to say, the situation has had a negative impact on the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, in particular, universal primary education, the promotion of gender equality and the autonomy of women, which had recorded a marked improvement from 1999 to 2012.

Yemeni Heritage, Samia Mohammed Abdo Mothanna Al-Shaweri, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Yemeni Heritage (2015) by Samia Mohammed Abdo Mothanna Al-Shaweri

But even in such difficult times for her country, Tawakkol Karman, Yemen’s most famous voice and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, does not lose hope, or the smile familiar to those who know her, “When you start to fight for your dreams you begin to win. We have experienced a revolution and now we are in the phase of the counter-revolution, but it is wrong to think that this is the end of our dream. We want a free, democratic country, where the law and human rights apply to everyone: we will not give up until we get it.”

Untitled, Sara Althaibani, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015)
by Sara Althaibani


If you stroll through the streets of Sana’a, in a landscape plucked from the desert and entirely formed by human labour, in an architecture of legendary towers, of houses chilled with an astute use of pierced stone, of mud walls that are stronger than stone, you feel as if you are in a world that has made an art of necessity itself.

Silent Rhythm, Shahd Ali Daiban, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Silent Rhythm (2015)
by Shahd Ali Daiban


It is also a world where contemporary art mounts the barricades. As in the case of the artist Murad Sobay, who defies the fundamentalists’ dictates against all forms of art, painting the faces of the victims of the attacks of December 2014 against the Defence ministry in black and white on the walls of Sana’a, in a campaign called ‘The Wall’.

Untitled, Thany Samer Al Bhloly, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015) by Thany Samer Al Bhloly

In this confrontational scenario, Imago Mundi’s Yemeni art, with its 170 10x12 cm canvasses, composes a vibrant mosaic that gives voice to the country. It takes inspiration, for example, from the almost abstract modernity of the ancient alabaster statues that bring to mind sculptures by Brancusi. But it also tells of the social sphere of Yemen; it shows what changes and what remains the same, in the human, natural and urban landscape. A rich collective image with the presence both of the new and of ancient roots, of slowness and a desire for acceleration.

Untitled, Zakaria Yahya Al-Gadaabi, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015)
by Zakaria Yahya Al-Gadaabi


In a scene from Pasolini’s ‘Arabian Nights’, Princess Dunya is haunted by the recurring dream of the betrayal of a dove. It is her lover, Prince Tagi, who reveals the true meaning of the dream in a mosaic.

Untitled, Ziad Nassir Al-Ansi, 2015, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2015)
by Ziad Nassir Al-Ansi

So, in the Yemeni world, for centuries accustomed to not wasting a drop of water, it is once again the fantasticality of art that in times of modern or ancestral turbulence attempts – with wisdom – to quench our thirst.

Luciano Benetton

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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