It’s in the Blood [Archives:1998/42/Last Page]

October 19 1998

Hassan Mohammed Taher is a talented stone and marble carver and sculptor. Although he only has a fifth grade certificate, his innate talent was honed by many years of creative work, both in Yemen and abroad. It is a hobby turned profession, now producing aesthetically formed shapes.
Hassan Taher is the heir to an ancient civilization of innovative stone masons and builders of monumental structures.
Mohammed Bin Sallam of Yemen Times talked to Taher at his humble Sanaa workshop – Al-Hikma Al-Yemania, first opened in 1995. He filed the following interview.
Q: Could you tell us about starting this workshop?
A: My love for sculpting was the greatest driving force. Although financial returns were quite modest at the beginning, I persevered until more and more people started coming to buy my work.
All of the 40 people working in this workshop are Yemeni. They never studied sculpting as an academic subject. We usually offer a five-month apprenticeship to our would-be employees.
Q: Is work done purely by hand or by machines?
A: Some pieces are a 100% hand-sculpted. While for others, we use electric saw and lathing machines as well. Delicate work such as exquisite carvings is most certainly done manually.
Q: Where do you get the stone from?
A: From all parts of the country. We use about 25 different types of stone from Taiz, Dhamar, Saada, Mareb, Radaa, Khawlan, etc.
Q: What sort of work do you sculpt?
A: Our work is used in interior decorations on doors, banisters, etc. We also do small pieces such as censers, coffee tables and replicas of
Bab Al-Yemen, the historical city of Shibam, Daar Al-Hajar, the Yaffi’ Palace, etc. Some people order scaled-down maquettes for their villas, which we do with the same type of stone coloring.
We don’t do human or animal sculpting. It isn’t Islamic. We do, however, imitations of ancient Yemeni calligraphy.
Q: Have you taken part in art exhibitions?
A: I took part in a workshop in Germany and in Dubai’s Shopping Festival, ’98. The 40 pieces we exhibited in Dubai were all sold. I gave one piece – a replica of the ancient Mareb Dam – as a present to Sheikh Zayid of the UAE.
The Minister of Construction has nominated our workshop to take part in the Expo 2000 Exhibition to be held in Germany. We are already part of the committee entrusted with the task of preparing for Yemen’s participation.
Q: How many pieces are made per day?
A: This depends on their shape, size and complexity. Some large stone gates take up to two months to finish and cost somewhere in the region of YR 200,000. A replica of a building with four different style of Yemeni architecture takes a month to complete and costs YR 300,000.
Q: Have you received any support from the Yemeni cultural authorities?
A: We receive moral support from the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mr. Abdulmalik Mansour and the Chairman of the Historical Cities Authority, Mr. Mohammed Hussain Jorman. The former Minister of Industry, Mr. Ahmed Soufan granted us some tax and import duty exemptions.
Q: Has any official concerned with Yemeni heritage visited your workshop?
A: No, no one has visited. They have other priorities!
Q: Do many tourists or other foreign visitors come to see your masterpieces?
A: Not many come, as our workshop is still not widely known.
Q: What sort of problems do you face in your work?
A: There are many problems. Lack of experienced stone carvers is the main one. We also don’t have enough funds to buy some essential tools and equipment. My capital is really my experience and ability to be creative.
We would certainly welcome any financial support by the Yemeni cultural authorities.