Thana first started taking photographs in Yemen, around 2007. “It started with me taking the camera…the photos were not important…I don’t remember the first photos”, says Thana, “.It was more about a Yemeni woman being in the street doing the act of photography, that was for me the start…photography in itself came later.” For Thana, the importance of photographing Yemen was about subverting stereotypes. “For some people it’s a country filled with people killing each other…I hated that…for me I’m going to show the beauty and the day to day life in Yemen”, says Thana of her early works, adding, “The transformation happened when the war happened in 2015. I felt now I needed to act more responsibly. I’m carrying a camera, I’m carrying a powerful tool, I need to do something with it.” And thus, with an interest in what was happening inside the home, she photographed Yemeni women during the war.
When Thana left Yemen, her work underwent a transformation, embarking on a body of work known as The Passport Project. “It’s a self portrait now in a way”, she explains, “It’s a book project, it’s been living with me for the past few years…like any long-time project, it has to take its time…it started with me, pursuing asylum in the Netherlands.” The project not only tells Thana’s personal story, but also that of undocumented asylum seekers she encountered on her journey, using her camera to shed light on the people that the world often forgets about. “As a storyteller it’s nice to point the finger to say there is a pain, look at it”, she explains, “I don’t go beyond that because generating this feeling of empathy is more than enough.” She also explains that while she doesn’t report on war or conflict directly, her work does touch on it, presenting it in a way that it can be absorbed and digested. And, asked whether she feels a responsibility to act a certain way as a Yemeni working outside Yemen, she explains: “You feel guilty a lot…that you’re in Europe. About the people, about the family, about the friends you left behind…the work I do sometimes in an indirect way speaks about Yemen, or tells the stories about there.”
In January of this year Thana had her first ever solo exhibition at Pulchiri Studios in Den Haag and will soon be publishing a book funded by the Open Society Foundations, which she hopes to launch in the refugee camp in the Netherlands where she lived. “It’s so exciting to invite people in the camp to attend the launch”, she says, with many of the images having been taken in the same place. Thana lived in camps for six months. “You live with people who have experienced the same thing…who have come from terrible stories, and you listen to them on a daily basis”, she says of the experience, “It is interesting and healing in a way because you realise you’re not the only one…but it’s traumatising at the same time.”
Since moving to the Netherlands, Thana has started a second masters at the Royal Academy of Arts and is working on a new project with the help of her mother, photographing her through FaceTime, recording daily life, sound and conversations in Yemen through her. “How can I report on Yemen without being in Yemen? That haunted me for a while”, she says, “I wanted to show everyone the struggle through my mother.”
And, talking about the coronavirus situation, Thana feels as though she has already lived in isolation before, and is keeping a visual diary and photographing day-to-day life. “If we put isolation in perspective…this was my life, not just my life but all the refugees”, she explains, putting it all into perspective she says: “When we think about it, my family, all the people in Yemen are living in isolation…there’s only one commercial flight, the main airport in Sana’a is closed…Yemenis are living in isolation.”