Arts for Peacebuilding in Yemen

Shatha Altowai: Harmonic Coexistence, 2019

A new report from the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient in Bonn details the challenges experienced by artists in Yemen since the eruption of armed conflict in 2014. Our IIE-Artist Protection Fund Fellows for 2020-21, Shatha Altowai and Saber Bamatraf, have contributed their reflections.

“Before unification there was a big art movement, especially in the South,” says Saber Bamatraf, a musician, “we had theaters and a strong music scene, which influenced other parts of the Arabian Peninsula. It was very progressive. But after unification the theaters closed and art classes were suspended.”

Abstract artist Shatha Altowai and her musician husband Saber Bamatraf told us how they have been constantly queried over their choice to produce non-figurative paintings and instrumental music with no vocals. “Some artists feel scared of people’s comments whenever they want to draw something strange or weird, they’re afraid they’ll be judged,” Shatha says. “I’m not afraid of anything. I just want to do whatever I love so that‘s why I just draw.” Breaking away from traditional styles seems to be particularly difficult for women artists, who often receive a great deal of backlash for perceived transgressions.

The full report, titled 'Broken People Can’t Heal a Nation': The Role of Arts in Peacebuilding in Yemen, can be downloaded as a PDF from the CARPO website.

Image: Harmonic Coexistence by Shatha Altowai, 2019. All rights reserved by the artist.