In this episode of the Gallery Girl podcast we are joined by Inti Bint and Shaima Al Tamimi, both Yemeni artists based in diaspora. We speak about their artwork, as well as their initiative Prints For Yemen which is raising money for Yemen Aid with Al Yamaniah.
Noha aka Inti Bint – Arabic for “you’re a girl” is a singer-songwriter and illustrator based in London. Having grown up between the UK, Yemen and Switzerland, her work comments on her experiences as a Yemeni woman living in the UK, and the meaning that “inti bint” has had throughout her life. Living in the GCC, Shaima is always on the go and her photography work documents the diversity, stories, people, food and places that make our cities what they are today. Both Noha and Shaima are part of Al Yamaniah, an international collective of Yemeni women founded by Noha, shining a light on female Yemeni talent across the world. Together they have just curated an initiative called Prints For Yemen, encompassing a series of artist prints raising funds for Yemen aid, an organisation providing long term and sustainable humanitarian assistance to Yemeni people regardless of race, political affiliation, ancestry or religion.
Shaima and Noha connected through Instagram, through their shared ideas of what they want to do in terms of supporting Yemen. And while they are both artists, neither comes from an artistic background. “I started working in the arts and culture field over ten years ago and that was my exposure towards people in the industry and going to art exhibitions…somehow that tends to rub off on you”, says Shaima, “I realised that I had a lot of things I want to express. It’s something that I picked up via photography.” Noha meanwhile turned to art while studying part time for a Masters degree in Migration and Development. “I decided to focus a bit more on art”, she explains, “It was a great way for me to reconnect with my Yemeni side and a great way to meet more yemeni artists.”
So, do the pair feel a responsibility to use work to draw attention to the situation in Yemen? Short answer, yes. “Especially with the privilege of living abroad”, says Noha. Shaima agrees: “I only started noticing recently a pattern in what I do in visual storytelling. It’s all about Yemen, but much more my experiences being a Yemeni who has never lived in Yemen and always lived outside, with that is another layer of being East African Yemeni. Part of my responsibility is to show the diversity of our history, because it has a lot to do with our patterns in migration and movement.” She even tells one story of a family event where she heard the same family speaking Indonesian, Swahili and Arabic at one dinner. “I think even the responsibility I’ve taken on myself isn’t only to amplify what’s happening in Yemen, but also to show that there are ten million different stories that can come out of Yemen”, she adds, “Unfortunately what the media is focusing on is the war and the famine. It’s not to say it’s not happening, but there is so much we can do that can also combat this weak concept of Yemen as a stereotype.”
Turning to Al Yamaniah, Noha explains that it’s a platform for Yemeni women. “The idea is to centralise Yemeni women within the conversations about women and in the process bring yemeni women together and highlight their work”, she explains. And through Al Yamaniah, Shaima and Noha came together to launch Prints For Yemen, an initiative selling prints by female Yemeni artists with money raised going to Yemen Aid. “I had a lot of people interested in prints but I never set up a system”, says Shaima, “I could set up something online and give to charity, but I don’t think i would be able to make the kind of impact that i wanted to make.” She then approached Noha to work on a sale that would invite more artists to be a part of the initiative and at time of recording they had made £15,000. “You don’t normally hear of artists from Yemen”, adds Shaima, “This is a really good way to showcase the breadth and depth of what Yemeni artists do…it was an all-round feel good project, not just because we were doing something for Yemen, but we were also helping to support and showcase artists that people might not have come across.”
Besides Prints For Yemen, both Noha and Shaima are working on their own individual projects. Shaima is working on a project as part of her fellowship with the Magnum Foundation, while Noha is hoping to release her debut EP this summer.
And which Yemeni artists should we have on our radar? Shaima and Noha include Sarah Ahmed, Afraa Ahmed, Arif Al Nomay, Asim Abdul Aziz, Nsr Akri, and Lama Ali.