Defending Human Rights with a Brush! [Archives:1999/19/Culture]

May 10 1999

People in Yemen are slowly learning their basic rights. There are now many campaigns that aim at increasing human rights awareness among Yemenis. Most of these efforts are government-sponsored, others are promoted by NGOs, and still many are driven by individuals with a commitment to democracy.
Some people defend human rights through their writings, others volunteer their time to work in human rights organizations, etc. Today, there is a new means of expression – through art. One example of such modern artists is Jamal Abdullah Al-Shami. Jamal’s themes have encompassed different aspects of human rights.
Ismail Al-Ghabiry of the Yemen Times talked to this extremely talented painter who has participated in many exhibitions throughout the Arab world, and who is the vice president and an active member of the Human Rights Activists Association.
Q: What inspires you the most?
A: Nature, the environment and scenery of open space and places are the things that drive me to paint.
Q: Artistically, which school do you belong to?
A: Well, when I started painting, I did not know anything about the different schools of Art. I simply applied my brush.
In one of the exhibitions I took part in, some professional painters taught me the differences. After seeing the varieties of styles and approaches, I realized that my paintings combined many different schools.
I still draw in many styles. I do add some touches of my own to my paintings, to give them a personal feeling.
Q: When did you start sketching? When was your take-off as a professional artist?
A: I started sketching during my school days. It was my favorite hobby. Later the hobby developed into a passion. The first time I was recognized as a professional artist was in Damascus in 1987. That was my first participation in an international exhibition.
Q: How many paintings have you done?
A: I have done many paintings and drawings. Some of these are sold to an appreciating public. I am satisfied with all my work.
Q: In how many local and international exhibitions have you participated?
A: I have organized four solo exhibitions in Damascus. I have participated in many international exhibitions, I participate in most local exhibitions. I also have competed in some of the international competitions. I design postage stamps as well as logos.
Q: Does the government support and encourage this kind of art?
A: Painters and artists receive no support at all. In fact, the opposite is true. The Ministry of Culture had bought some of the paintings of famous Yemeni artists, but so far they have to receive payment for them.
The sad fact is that our officials do not understand any thing about art, let alone appreciate it. They come to exhibitions out of formalities and to get their face on the TV camera. They nod and stare as if they have understood something. It is just a show, because they never make an effort to learn.
Q: What are the paintings that you have an affection for?
A: I don’t paint unless I am convinced of the idea it represents. The theme and message have to be well formed in my mind.
Many of my paintings are a reflection of our estranged life. I see our people and I draw on my own personal experience.
One of the issues I now focus on is human rights. I will have an exhibition this month at the French Cultural Center on this theme.
In closing, I would like to say that there are very few artists in our country today. These people are of a very sensitive nature and they have special needs. They need to be encouraged, and the best way to do that is by buying the product – paintings. This will allow them to continue with there creative output.