Since 2014, mainstream media reporting surrounding Yemen has centred largely around conflict. The situation in Yemen has been deemed “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” by the UN, with around 80% of the population (24 million Yemenis) in need of humanitarian assistance. There have been more than 100,000 deaths from the ongoing fighting between competing powers in the Middle East, as well as millions suffering from famine and disease outbreaks.
Yet amongst all this, a new contemporary art gallery was launched last December in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, that aims to showcase young artists and the daily lives of Yemenis.
Arsheef, which means “archive” in Arabic, was founded by Lizzy Vartanian and Ibi Ibrahim. Ibrahim, speaking to ARTnews, said,“Our aim is to promote the work of contemporary Yemeni artists in times of conflict and unrest, we want to show the world a different view of Yemen, one that doesn’t revolve around war.” He goes on to describe Arsheef as “the melting pot of Yemen”.
By the media reducing Yemen to its political instability and crisis, and only showing the negatives of the country, we are dismissing the human side of the country and artists that need to be brought into the light.
Vartanian told The New Arab, “Just because there is conflict, it doesn’t mean that artists have stopped working.” The crisis has resulted in many galleries closing down, which means it is increasingly difficult for artists to showcase their work. Arsheef, however, is giving them a platform.
Vartanian has expressed that, as the founders of Arsheef, they hope to give artists “something to look forward to in terms of exhibiting their artwork, as well as some financial return in terms of selling their work. But most importantly, art can offer an outlet for people in times of distress and it can also provide a sense of hope.”
Due to the period of unrest in the country, Arsheef is only open through booking appointments and is run primarily through Instagram and WhatsApp. The public can visit the gallery in person by scheduling a time through Instagram.
The gallery’s Instagram page is full of images that depict Yemenis’ daily lives: the destruction of infrastructure, and the streets and children of Yemen during these times. This allows the rest of the world to witness the lives of Yemenis today.
Arsheef is currently closed for the summer but will be reopening in September 2020.