Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts or happenings. It consist mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one’s head.
This child from the Suri tribe, was photographed in the Omo Valley, Ethiopia.
Exhibition at Kunsthalle Erfurt, Germany,
Opens February 21,2014
Beetles & Huxley Fine Photographs
Opens May 12, 2014
Tom Finn on the Oscar-nominated documentary about Yemen’s revolution, “Karama Has No Walls”: http://nyr.kr/1obR2ca
In 2011, a month after protests broke out in Yemen against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, an activist sent me a video that had begun to circulate widely online. Filmed from the balcony of an apartment building in the capital, Sanaa, the footage shows a throng of unarmed protesters taking shelter behind a ten-foot wall in the street below. Black smoke is rising from a pile of burning tires on the other side of the wall, where pro-Saleh thugs are crouched, firing rifles at the protesters. During a lull in the shooting, one of the protesters—a young man with a green shawl wrapped around his head—pulls himself up onto the wall. Pumping his fists in the air, the man turns to face the gunmen, then leaps off the other side. Moments later, the crowd surges forward, tears down the wall, and chases the gunmen down the street.
The symbolism was not lost on Yemenis. I asked one of the protesters, Ahmed, a forty-two-year-old grocer and father of three, why he followed the young man over the wall. He brushed the question aside. “I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t even think about it,” he said. “The wall was the regime. We had to tear it down or the revolution would have failed.” Other protesters described the experience in more personal terms. “It changed me. When I went over the wall, I felt as if I’d left a part of me behind,” Yasir, a law student who was shot in the foot that day, said. “My life was out of my hands. I wasn’t scared. I felt powerful.”
The toppling of the wall marked the end of the bloodiest crackdown in Yemen’s history, and the beginning of the revolution that would eventually unseat Saleh after thirty-three years in power. On that day, Friday, March 18, 2011, now known in Yemen as Jumaa al-Karama, or the Friday of Dignity, protesters had gathered for noonday prayers in the place they named Change Square when snipers opened fire, killing fifty-three and wounding hundreds more. The massacre prompted a wave of resignations: ministers, officials, ambassadors, and even the country’s most powerful military general defected. The protests against Saleh, which had been scattered and sporadic, swelled as thousands poured into the square in solidarity.
I said nothing for a time, just ran my fingertips along the edge of the human-shaped emptiness that had been left inside me.
Silence of the Lambs/Sheep (2009) - Egyptian Artist AMAL KENAWY
What happens when you present a work of art to the streets? That is what Amal Kenawy experienced when she carried out the “Silence of the Lamb” performance in the streets of Cairo. Dressed as a shepherdess, Amal Kenawy guided a crawling flock of men and children (including her brother Abdul Ghani) through the streets of Cairo, portraying in a very literal and visual manner the problem with conformity the society in general engages in. The performance sought to tackle the influence powerful and privileged institutions have on perpetuating a state of helplessness in the society, both political and cultural. It is important to note that Amal Kenawy wasn’t merely criticizing her Egyptian society. Instead, she was criticizing the whole mental state of submissiveness; and from that, “us”, the viewers can extend its application to situations that are relative to our experiences. Religious, political, cultural, professional, and educational submissiveness. She was criticizing all forms of submission and conformity that halt the development of critical thinking, and instead place the society and its components under the mercy of those who have the power to persuade a society into accepting a position of submissiveness and disengagement from the power to change.
This aspect of the performance soon became overshadowed by what the people on the streets hurled at Amal Kenawy herself. The debate suddenly shifted from that of power and privilege, to one that highlights gender inequalities and patriotism in the Egyptian society. According to Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, men on the street began insulting Amal personally using derogatory sexist names and accused her of demeaning Egypt. She believes that they also felt a sort of vulnerability and humiliation that a woman was the one who led the crawling men. Thus, the debate shifted from one that merely tackles submissiveness as a mental state, but also to one that introduces gender, patriarchy, and patriotism into the midst of this theme, which gave it a more inclusive perspective. I believe this was Amal’s goal from the beginning. To engage the society in a lively and raw multifactorial debate about conformity. Amal Kenawy and all those who engaged in the performance were arrested later that day, and the performance was never carried out again by that gallery.
The first Yemeni film to be nominated for an Oscar recounts one of the bloodiest days in the country’s uprising of 2011. Sara Ishaq’s short documentary, Karama Has No Walls, provides a poignant memorial to the 53 demonstrators killed in Sana’a by snipers on March 18, 2011. The bravery of all who contributed to making this heart-rending film ensures the protesters who died in Yemen’s revolution can never be forgotten.
Nawara Mahfoud on a Syrian woman’s new life in Lebanon: http://nyr.kr/1hEk02y
“Oum Ali is very proud of the apartment—this is her triumph. Only when she started her catering business did they manage to move here; previously, they all crammed into a one-bedroom basement space, where the smell ‘was as if you lived in the middle of a garbage bin.’”
Photograph by Latitude Stock/Arcaid/Corbis.