Exhibit depicts Arab classrooms [Archives:2007/1106/Last Page]

November 26 2007
Female students class in one of the Gulf countries.
Female students class in one of the Gulf countries.
A striking new British Council photography exhibit opened Sunday at the National Museum in Sana'a. Entitled “Classroom Portraits,” the exhibit captures in images and facts the classrooms and views of students in 25 schools across Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Kingdom.

Yemeni Education Minister Abdulsalam Al-Jawfi, British Ambassador to Yemen Timothy Torlot and Elizabeth White, director of the British Council in Yemen, opened the event.

British photographer Julian Germain was commissioned by the British Council to take the series of 24 photographs and ask students about their likes and dislikes, aims and ambitions during each classroom visit. Postcards highlighting statistics from his surveys accompany the photographs.

The project with schools in the Middle East follows Germain's work in 2004 with schools in England. The British Council aims to eventually create a global collection of such classroom portraits.

The photographer explains, “School is our life from age 5 to 16. We all leave school, but it never leaves us. Our school days are a collective formative experience, a memory matrix allowing even complete strangers to find common ground and understanding.”

Germain notes that his photographs have the potential to trigger all sorts of responses and memories from anyone who has attended school, adding that, “The statistics tell us things that the photographs alone cannot. They add to our sense of what the pupils think and feel about themselves, school and the world beyond.”

He continues, “What interested me as a photographer was the physicality of school – the buildings, the classrooms, the uniforms and the children.”

The exhibit features students from primary, intermediate and secondary schools across Yemen and the Middle East region. Surveys of intermediate students in Yemen revealed that religious studies was the favorite subject and white was their favorite color. Additionally, most students interviewed wanted to become doctors, pilots, scientists or football players.

English school books will be given as prizes in a fun quiz taking place at the exhibit, in addition to a student English writing competition based on the exhibit photographs. Additionally, packets containing postcards with information about the exhibit will be available for schools and a smaller exhibit featuring just the 11 Yemeni schools photographed will tour the country in early December.

British Council Director White points out, “Whatever our background, “Classroom Portraits” provides all of us a common focal point. By using art to illustrate this shared experience, young people in the U.K. and the Middle East have a wonderful opportunity to discover more about each others lives, explore different cultures and exchange ideas.

She adds, “The British Council is delighted to support Germain in this exciting project. We'd like to thank all of the Yemeni and regional schools that participated in this innovative project. In time, we look forward to building “Classrooms Portraits” into a global collection of images and statistics from schools worldwide.”

The photography exhibit's opening comes at a peak time for the British Council, which is intensifying its activities via numerous cultural and artistic events during November and December under the name, “Multaqa: Yemen and Britain)Celebrating Cultures in Contact.”