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A Refuge In Colours: Journey Of A Yemeni Artist Into The World Of Art

Yemeni artist Eman Mohammed tells Outlook that most of her paintings are about women in Yemen, their strength and sacrifices.

Yemeni artist Emam Mohammed
Eman Mohammed, the 24-year-old Yemeni artist, came to India in 2018 to pursue studies in German literature. Hardik Chhabra

For Eman Mohammed, a 24-year-old Yemeni artist, her journey into the world of art did not begin in an ordinary way. She did not know how to paint before the pandemic broke out. Forced to stay alone in her Jawaharlal Nehru University hostel in the wake of lockdowns in Delhi, she took a brush and some paint, and has never stopped since then. 

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Eman was born in Taizz, a city in southwestern Yemen. Later she spent the rest of her time in Sana’a, the region's capital and the largest city. The war in Yemen started in 2014 after the Houthi insurgents took control of the capital and demanded a regime change. The turmoil has so far left nearly 25 million Yemenis in need of assistance. Five million people are at the risk of famine, and diseases like cholera have affected nearly a million people.

Yemeni artist Emam Muhammed starting painting after the Covid-19 pandemic began
Studying art formally in Germany has been Eman’s goal for a long time, and she wishes to realise it soon. | Photo: Hardik Chhabra

“Things in Yemen were spiraling into a doom, bombs going off everywhere had shoved me into a state of perpetual anxiety,” Eman tells Outlook, adding, “the violence was so bad, that I would often fear lest a bomb explodes nearby and kills me.”

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“The war destroyed many homes, wreaked havoc on the lives of Yemenis. My parents used to have government jobs, and the salaries stopped coming,” she says.

With no hope in sight, Eman decided to leave her war-torn homeland and come to India in 2018 to pursue a degree in German literature. After getting an admission in JNU, things started to make “a little sense” to her. However, with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, she was now stranded in a country hundreds of miles away from her family. She felt homesick, like never before.

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“Had I gone back to Yemen, I might have never been able to return and complete my degree,” she tells Outlook while adding that things in her home country were only getting worse. That’s when she sought a refuge in colours and canvasses. 

“All of my friends in Delhi went to their homes, and I had a home too, but I could not go,” she tells Outlook.

“I started to paint, and started liking it. When I showed my paintings to my friends and classmates, they immediately liked them and encouraged me to paint more and start making a living out of my art,” Eman tells Outlook

Yemeni artist Emam Muhammed
Eman gives finishing touches to one of her paintings at her residence in Safdarjung, Delhi. | Photo: Hardik Chhabra

To sustain in India, she now makes a living out of her art. 

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“I had never expected this, because I never started to paint with the intention of earning money. Rather, I did it for the sake of the art itself,” says the artist. 

“But it is good that I am able to support myself. My family back in Yemen is fraught with financial problems,” she says, adding, "now with my art, I am also able to support them." 

Most of the paintings Eman has created over the period of several years, have been sold out. And whatever remains in her studio, is mostly abstract. Her style of painting cannot be restricted to a particular category, but she says, most of her work is symbolic of women empowerment. 

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“Most of the paintings are about the women in Yemen, their strength and sacrifices, because they are very strong and the world needs to know that,” Eman tells Outlook.

Yemeni artist Emam Muhammed with paintings around her
 Eman’s most of the paintings have sold, and what now remains in her studio is an array of some pieces of abstract art.  | Photo: Hardik Chhabra

One of the paintings, she calls “Lost Between Reality And Hope” is a self-portrait depicting a girl who is caught up in the middle of a serpentine maze—one arm of the maze represents the Yemen’s heritage and culture and the other is just an extension made up of innumerable mazes representing uncertainty, chaos and despair. In the backdrop of the girl stuck in a maze, hundreds of alphabet of Arabic and Musnad— Ancient South Arabian script—lie densely scattered.

Dreaming of moving ahead in life, Eman wants to go to Germany someday, to pursue studies in art formally. 

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