Safe space for art strikes a chord in Yemen
A vibrant art gallery and an activist rock band have been creating a stir in this conservative Arab country.
Sanaa, Yemen – Yemeni entrepreneur Taysir al-Sharki reaches into her self-designed purse embellished in sitara fabric – a pattern usually reserved for old women’s dresses – to pull out her ringing mobile phone.
But an old woman she is not. The 42-year-old Sharki greets the caller while pouring tea for the dozen artists gathered in her vast new art gallery in Yemen’s dusty capital.
The excited chatter of the young artists gathered in the Raufa Hassan Gallery stops as they see Sharki’s face drop. A Yemeni security official is the caller. Rumours have been swirling that her art gallery is actually an illicit nightclub, they say. Officers will be paying her a visit soon.
Meanwhile, Omr Sa’d – the harmonica player for 3 Meters Away – the activist band in residence at the gallery – notices his own phone ringing. Sa’d already knows the call is bad news: the unknown number is a member of his large, conservative family who is threatening his life for playing rock music.
Finally, Sharki hangs up her phone, looking daunted. Her hands shake as she finishes pouring tea. “What can I say? This is Yemen,” she says, a grim smile crossing her face.
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