Amidst the waves of refugees seeking shelter in Germany, the Yemeni community has shined brightly in the highly anticipated Berlin Art Week 2018 with the On Echoes of Invisible Hearts: Narratives of Yemeni Displacement installment. The installment by Diwan Al Fan was curated by Lila Nazemian and ran from September 26 to October 18, 2018 and featured the works of the Yemeni artists Yasmine Diaz​, Ibi Ibrahim​, Habeeb Abu-Futtaim​, Saba Jallas,​ Eman al- Awami​, and Arif Al Nomay​.

The voices of these artists speak for both the countless displaced Yemenis and the ones suffering first hand from the ongoing war. Since it reached its three-year anniversary this March, the rest of the world sits vicariously while the Yemenis themselves are outspoken. As media coverage fails to detail the ongoing struggle, these artists have made it their own goal to get the Yemeni voice heard. Through their art, the artists wish to portray not only the Yemeni war but also the tolls that they as displaced refugees have to pay at a more personal and genuine level.

Below, is an introduction to the artists themselves along with the artwork featured at the exhibition:

Arif Al Nomay:

Arif Al Nomay, File 7987 (Corrupted Files Series), Light Box Photography, 60x90cm, 2014-2018

Born on 1977 in Ibb, Yemen, Arif is a self-taught artist based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Also being a freelance photographer and documentary filmmaker, he explores various themes including the narrative, politics, aesthetics and culture of Yemen. He was the recipient of the Photography LIVE Dubai in 2017. In the Exhibition, he exhibited two pieces of his Corrupted Files series in which he wishes to reveal the current state of Yemen through profoundly symbolic and tainted photographs. The images consist of hundreds of photographs stitched together to form a single piece that highlights a certain picture through focus on color and pixelization. As a way to intensify the photographs’ unavoidable disjointed elements, the photographs will – for the first time, be displayed as light boxes.

Habeeb Mohammed Abu-Futtaim:

Habeeb Mohammed Abu-Futtaim, artwork details in captions

Currently mastering in Museum and Gallery Practice in the University of College London, Habeeb focuses on themes of identity, nationalism and culture. By using visual aids, such as videos, Habeeb physically shows the impact of enforcing ideologies and his attempt at finding his own amidst the chaos. Salt Bricks and Water Boarders center on the crumbling state of the region with references to geometric shapes and colors that constitute various regional flags. Salt Bricks emphasizes on the material fracturing of the salt bricks symbolizing the current state of affairs in the region. Water Boarders takes it a step further by showcasing similarly colored and shaped salt bricks dissolving into water symbolizing the diminishment of the once strong resilience of the nations. This is projected onto water-filled plexi-box on the ground making it realistic for the viewer. The pieces can also be taken literal where the water enclosing the dissolving salt bricks represent the Arab nations losing their people as they seek refuge in other countries. Habeeb once more takes this critique of culture through his third project titled Undoing the Displacement of my Belief by physically dissimulating the hardened white center of a green brick – which is here a clear and deliberate symbol of Islam- while turbulent Muslim sermons play over the process. This can only be seen as a definite reflection of the constant battle of religion and politics within the region and the role of artists living in such atmospheres. 

Saba Jallas:

Saba Jallas, Untitled – Smoke Drawings, Digital Images, Sizes Vary, 2015-2018

Born in Sana’a, Saba majored in French literature in the Sana’a University in 2007. Since 2015, she began transforming mobile-phone images of smoke resulting from bombings in the various landscapes around Yemen into cartoon drawings. Following the silhouette of the smoke, she re-imagines the lethal smoke as poetic naivety through images like that of a mothering protecting her children and traditional Yemeni customs. Her direct inspiration came from a similar series first commissioned by Palestinian artists whom also chose this technique as an act of resilience. Her images can be seen on a loop, including the altered drawing and the original mobile phone photography side by side.

Ibi Ibrahim:

Ibi Ibrahim, Departure, Video Installation, 8minutes 55seconds, 2017

Born in the USA and raised throughout the Middle East, Ibi now resides between Sana’a and Berlin. He has artwork being displayed thought the world in several exhibitions around Europe, the United States and the Middle East. He produces film, music and art pieces as he is a visual artist as well as a filmmaker, musician and art administrator. He is also the founder and the Editor in Chief of Al Madaniya Magazine – Yemen’s first online art and culture Magazine, as well as the founder and director of Diwan al Fan – an initiative aiming at endorsing Yemeni art, music and film in exhibitions around the world. His contributing piece Departure is a collaborative video with Hosam Omran that represents the struggles of the Yemeni’s who have fallen victim to the war. Left stranded and displaced from their homeland, Ibi uses birds’ migrations and animated drawings of Yemen to represent the ever-present state of uneasiness that follows the displaced Yemenis worldwide. The video is also accompanied with a voice over of a Yemeni woman recalling her experiences, along with that of the many others like her, with the displacement from war, longing for home and all the confusion that comes with it. Thousands of personal Yemeni images that were sent to Ibi surround the video installation to make the whole experience more personal.

Eman Al-Awami:

Eman Al-Awami,  Between the Cracks, Digital Photograph, 10x15cm eeach, 2018

Professionally practicing photography and photojournalism since 2009 after attaining a degree in Languages from the Sana’a University, Eman works with international organizations by documenting the daily crises in Yemen. Having her work exhibited in Yemen as well as Lebanon, she contributed two art installations in the exhibition entitled Between the Cracks and Meanwhile in Yemen. These two pieces illustrate the two opposing faces of Yemen during the war – the war stricken wastelands, devastated landscapes and shattered hospitals as well as known entrepreneurs, local success stories and community activities within the region whom provide hope in the region. The two installations aim in showing that amidst all the war scenery, the Yemeni community anticipates a bright future. The later mentioned exhibition includes text descriptions of the portrait’s subjects along with their stories.

Yasmine Diaz:

Yasmine Diaz, Averting is easy, Mixed media collage and glitter on watercolor paper, 76.2 x 55.88 cm, 2018 and Yasmine Diaz, August 10, Collage and acetone transfer on hand-cut watercolor paper, 76.2 x 55.88 cm, 2018

A first generation immigrant born and raised in Chicago by Yemeni parents, Yasmine – who is currently based in Los Angeles, depicts works illustrating various themes including those of the tension between religion, gender, and third culture identity. She is currently an artist-in-residence at the Woman’s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles. She has three pieces in the exhibition including [هناء بنت قمر] / Hanna bint (daughter of) Ghamar, August 10, and Averting is Easy. The first exploring themes of honor and shame within the Arabic culture that are directly related to the women of the region. It demonstrates the heavy burden placed on women when they are young that accompanies them for the rest of their lives on preserving the family’s honor, a problem that has existed before the war, but has since the war increased and put on hold until the war has ended. The later piece addresses a problem that Diaz faces as a US citizen, where media coverage to the Yemeni war is almost nonexistent simply because it is deemed unappealing to the viewers. Further focusing on the USA’s aid to Saudi Arabia where the relationship between the two have resulted in various bombing and aid blockages across Yemen. Yet the media remains silent.

All images courtesy of Diwan Al Fan