Abdulrahman Jaber
Ameen AlGhabery
Bushra AlFusail
Ibrahim AlGhaffari
Mohammed Khalifa
Najat AlKubi
Salwa AlSharabi
Curator’s Comment

Attempt of a reading
Singular positions

Abdulrahman Jaber presents moments of hands in action, in the trope of the female sphere. The title „Endless“ bears a nuance of enervation, yet also of endless dedication. The fact that this observation is being focused at by a man is remarkable in a society as strictly separated as Yemen. The motives speak of the routine of housewives.

The biographical approach of Ameen Ghabari renders intervals in the life of his father that have left a marking impression on the advertisement photographer. “70s Harmony” alludes to a phase in the history of Yemen when making music, both traditional and modern, was more widespread than today. Ameen mentions the light in his father`s eyes when he starts talking about the musical years – a time that has come to an abrupt end towards the late 1980s when he was imprisoned, as he says,  unjustified. 
This reflects the special position that music has within the finely knit web of Yemeni society, that traditionally attributes music to a specific case, the muzayin (مزعيين , ( . For descendants of other castes it is rather untimely to marry from the muzayin-caste and vice versa. Reasons hereto can be found in directory of tribal codes, while exceptions to the rule apparently used to be more common in the 1980s. In fact this attitude towards music has been expanding with a vengeance, and it is rather rare to come across young people who play in bands of a Western orientation, or to see young men disco-dance, or fans of non-existing styles like heavy metal. Setting people under arrest, on the other hand, as in “ID Killer”, seems to be an element that Yemeni society is marked by until today. It seems to have become a sport, according to Ameen, to kidnap a person for oh so banal reasons, and lock them up in the erroneous hope for a solution to settle the problem – a destiny that not only foreigners encounter. The time before Yemeni unity was supposed to be filled with uncertainty and fear, and mutual North-South-Yemeni control causing individuals being arrested and interrogated and remanded for minor suspicions. The violence, suffering and fear of these tend to being banalised, and yet the pressure is there. Ameen says the light in his father`s eyes immediately fades, his face expression then is distorted of pain.

“Any women (or: Where is the girl with the guitar going all on her own)” To break out seems to be a leitmotiv for Najat AlKubi.  The taboo prevalent in Yemen not to depict women, as representatives for the female body, seems no longer to fit women’ access into diverse non-traditional everyday spheres: as a consumer, as on job markets. A woman at the steering wheel cannot be found in all countries of the Arabian Peninsula, while the woman at the engine is likely to be a genuine rarity. Stepping out beyond passivity is what the girl with the guitar attempts: music, dance, and the public displaying of physique has a special status in Yemeni society. It is not for no reason that TV commercials on Yemeni television tends to being produced abroad with foreign models. The unaccompanied woman, e.g. the one who is recognizable as a musician, plays with the notion of whom Yemeni women could be or what they would want to do. Similar to the mobile phone, the internet, blue-tooth, and wireless zones all stirred debates of controllability of women. And what if women really only want to sit on the grass and read the e-paper ? One interpretation might be that identities, as alluded to in the title, may have to be (if they are not already) even more multi-polar and multiple in the future. That it is time to rethink taboos based on traditions another. There seems to be no lack of perpetrators of both interpretations.

Boushra AlFusail takes up a similar topical approach as Najat AlKubi, her concern is about the rethinking of traditional role patterns along the line of the separation of the gender spheres. The title “10 kg of Justice” states it. The heritage that lays on women like a burden is tangible for young women of today. While Najat AlKubi mostly focuses on young modern educated urban women, Boushra AlFusails focus is more on women in more traditional and somewhat simpler  backgrounds.

The series of Ibrahim AlGhaffari, out of the specter of portrait photography, mirrors society sans retouche: “You are my eyes, I am your eyes”. While some of the previous series are samples of studio photography, his seems as if coincidently taken. Their strength lies in the magic of the glance they depict. The portrait of the young man reflects the title „Losing Hope“, reflecting a generation? The portrait of the bearded, middle aged man (part of the web gallery) is titled with „He smiles“, yet it is this smile that transfigures itself into bitterness and detachment. His appearance, with a beard and short hair, might resemble belonging to neo-conservative circles: could a returnee of terroristic training camps ever smile differently? Yemen was quoted, and sometimes criticized, up to about 2007, for its reintegration program of detained former affiliates of terroristic organizations, based on dialogue.
Also the „Two Men“ do not seem to look into a far reaching perspective – rather they seem to be attached to each other in solidarity, with one looking up, as if questioning the world, observant while standing back. While holding hands among men is common in Yemen, the position seems to allude to more: standing back in the flow of time, building an island of joint strength. This might reflect a widespread attitude in Yemen: letting the world outside, not intervening, letting things happen, directing one’s senses towards human values, one’s own group, the family, or then the one friend.
The last motive of the series depicts so-called street children offering their services as niche service suppliers actively selling their gimmicks. The boy’s glance is childlike, tender, playful, innocent. It lacks any bitterness that might be basic to the vicious circle of poverty, school dropout, occasional jobbing. Branding them as „poor but happy“ is a misty representation, yet the glance in the eyes of these children cannot be overseen (supposedly, glue sniffing is not spread in Yemen at all). The number of so-called street children has definitely increased in the last ten to fifteen years.

Mohamed Khalifa is an Adeni from the post-unification generation, whose comments are telling much. One might add that highly patriotic-sounding utterances, as in his third quotation “The Window”, are commonplace in Yemen (and one might wonder what ‘the end’ exactly refers to). The first series, “The City Tell the Story”, on the evolvement of infrastructural measures was eye-catching: Aden has developed much since the 1990s, if not the early 2000s. Gone are the times of (some of the) decrepit and shaky buildings along the main roads, in parts of the city like Khor Maksar or Maalla. With the new buildings a more Arabian style appears, in contrast to the colonial past. The lit-up corniche, that forms the basis of the series, was made into a leisure zone that attracts hundreds of families every evening and does add to life quality in Aden (even though some say these lights meant a major corruption scandal, especially in areas upcountry along the Southern coast where there are lamps that got installed, but power is not available).
The multi-religious ground, as in “Peace”, that Aden is made of is alluding to the past, when in fact different religious groups were coexisting peacefully, as Adenis born in the 1950s will tell. Mohamed tells the story of the last Parsi chemist, an elderly widower with no family left, who is appreciated in the neighborhood. Close observers do note a diminishing openness for persons who belong to other religions, while others will say that the general spirit in Aden is still welcoming to all. Funds for rehabilitating this public heritage, however, are certainly not sufficient, as a visit to the Towers of Silence (the Zoroastrian site) or the Jewish cemetery will tell. In the more tribal areas upcountry around the capital Sana’a, by contrast, even inner-religious differences from confession to confession seem to have become more important: Ismailis and Shiites, Sunnites and Yemeni Zaidism, according to some, have become clearer markers of distinction than before.

Salwa AlSharabi‘s contribution „Child. To marry“ gained international acknowledgement ever since the media attention on eight year old Nujud who tempted and achieved divorce. Marriage to minors in prepuberty age is not prohibited according to the law, on the basis of the historical fact that even prophet Mohamed used to get married to a six- respectively nine-year-old, according to interpretation. While marriage in its protective function might still be debatable, the lawful consumption of marriage with minors seems to split the spirits. It may be convened as a precondition to marriage that the latter is only to be consumed after reaching the age of fourteen years, or after the transgression into physical adult age has been fully achieved. But whether or not these conditions are respected is beyond the public discourse. Not every concerned child bride manages to break the circle of personal shame and loss of trust, like Nujud. Salwa AlSharabi understands this rupture as the end of childhood,  a fact that she sees undoubtedly as a misdeed and as discrimination.

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