Artist Lamia Al-Kibsi: “Yemen is the last country to be interested in painting.”
The head of Art House in Sana’a and a prominent artist, she says she is in a country that “doesn’t appreciate female artists and their ‘remarkable’ works.”
As a child, Al-Kibsi passed her time painting—painting her teacher, painting the chalkboard in her classroom at school, painting Sana’a landmarks. She would participate in painting competitions at the Gulf level, and once she won first prize.
Instead of buying sweets or jewelry with her Eid money, like all the other girls did, she bought paintbrushes and art books.
Al-Kibsi has participated in different national and international art exhibitions, and she says there is a big difference between the art of painting in Yemen and in other countries she’s visited.
“I’ve been to some countries, and I noticed they consider painting an important, essential and main part of life. They highly appreciate this art, while people in Yemen consider it a minor art.”
Al-Kibsi says Yemen is full of talented artists, but the problem is finding a place to use their talents.
“We in the Art House try to help those with talents and provide them with consultations, but the house lacks a lot of material and equipment,” she says. “The building is very old and inappropriate. We’ve repeatedly talked to the Ministry of Culture about providing us with a modern, larger building, but they said they cannot pay more than 60,000 riyals (less than $300) per month for rent.”
Al-Kibsi says she thinks the sidelining of painting as an important art in Yemen is partly from a lack of awareness about the importance of the art by society and officials.
“Yemeni society doesn’t realize that colors, beauty and painting are very important to our life and our generation,” she said. “Unfortunately, Yemen is the last country to be interested in painting.”
Society’s stance on women artists
Speaking about the difficulties that face women artists in Yemen, she says, “Yemeni society thinks it’s shameful for women to work as an artist. They think that women should stay at home and limit their relations only to their fathers, brothers and husbands.”
“We should raise awareness among Yemenis to convince them that art fines are not a disgrace,” she says. “Yemeni families consider it reprehensible for girls to express their views though painting.”
Al-Kibsi says painters are in need of a special art house for female artists because “current art houses are dominated by male artists, and sometimes those artists stay for long time chewing qat, so they prevent us from practicing our work freely.”
As a result of the difficulties women artists face, many appeared strong and active in practicing their craft, but, surprisingly, declined.
“We have very talented female artists who can compete at a global level.”
However, Al-Kibsi also says some Yemeni artists suffer from psychological problems, and some cannot even afford the cost of transportation. For some women artists, it is prohibited from them to go to Art House without their mahram (a close relative).
“Yemeni paintings are more appreciated outside Yemen,” she says. “Unfortunately, Yemeni businessmen buy paintings from foreign artists for a lot of money, while they don’t regard original, Yemeni paintings.”
Among these challenges and difficulties, Al-Kibsi is optimistic about the future of painting in Yemen.
“This year, various forms of art appeared such as graffiti, photography, painting and sculpture. I’m sure that Yemeni paintings will be globally recognized very soon.”