By Benjamin Wiacek
A tall and elegant young woman wanders around the room covered with large photographs. The artist stops and observes one of the pictures placed on the yellow stonewall.
“This picture symbolizes one of my best memories. It was the next day after the attack on the Boston marathon,” recalls the young woman. “People were hugging each other. It was nice and the scene could have happened anywhere. Humanity really transcends borders.”
Thana Farouq is a 23 year-old Yemeni artist and photographer who recently returned to Yemen after studying in the U.S. Her photo exhibit, Street life in the moment, is hosted by the Raufa Hassan gallery in Sana’a, and shows a series of her pictures taken in Boston, Morocco and in Yemen.
The young woman then sits in one of the gallery’s wicker armchairs, and shares her love for art explaining that it is a passion since her childhood.
“I have always been passionate by colors and went to the few art exhibits happening in Yemen, even when I was 10 years old,” says Thana.
At the age of 16, Thana was granted a scholarship to finish high school in Canada. It was the first time she got the opportunity to study art. She began studying photography and later organized her first exhibit there.
Thanks to obtaining another scholarship, she then traveled to the U.S. where she studied at Clark University near Boston. There, she became a teaching assistant in the photo lab, allowing her to get more experience in her area of specialization.
“I was working in the dark room, showing the students how to develop pictures, and I also became a stage photographer during official events,” explains Thana.
Thana describes herself as an artist, not merely a photographer. Thus, despite this experience, she does not want to work in a studio or under the constraint of a predefined theme. She is more attracted by the unexpected aspect of the street that “decides” the fate of the photograph, the mood and the environment. She simply observes people and what they are doing until she feels the right moment to take a picture.
“I love photographing quiet and peaceful moments, such as a mother with her child, a smile, people hugging each other. We live in a world full of chaos and I just want to give a more peaceful image,” she explains. “I also want to do something for fun, something meaningful and have stories where people could look at them and feel a connection.”
This philosophy is obviously what attracts her to people, and the human aspect of portraits, which has become the source of her inspiration. She says she has learned so much from people in the streets. “It is not about taking pictures of people and then leaving, it is about building a relationship with them.”
Thana also explains that in intense circumstances it is easier to take interesting pictures, but that it is more difficult when everything is calm.
“In a demonstration, there is so much going on that it is not hard to capture what is happening. Many people can go there and take similar pictures,” she says. “But in the street, I design the moment, like a painter, but I don’t intervene. If I missed the moment, it is too late.”
Thana is not only an artist but also a young woman politically engaged. She recently graduated with a Bachelors degree in International Relations, with a minor in photography. Her final year thesis focused on the issue of drones in Yemen, which surprised many of her classmates who were not familiar with her “political” side.
Thana is now back in Yemen, doing an internship at Resonate, a local NGO. She hopes to go back abroad to study photojournalism, as a means to sustain herself financially. She insists that even with photojournalism career, she will continue to engage in artistic photography.
Indeed, despite her passion for politics, her love for art is superior. She expresses her sadness when she hears people say that photography or art are not important.
“Without art, there is no life, because it is what makes life meaningful and interesting,” she explains. “Never say it is not useless because then how would you express yourself without art.”
Being a photographer in Yemen is not always easy. She explains how people’s reactions vary from one person to another: from the lack of attention by some to the extreme curiosity of others, patience becomes an essential quality. But she stresses that the kindness and friendliness of Yemenis is also prevalent, and once a relationship of trust is established, the majority love to be photographed.
As it is often the case, Thana’s family would prefer a different future for her. Her mother wishes she could continue in the field of international relations and that she finds a secure job. While she worries about her daughter’s choice of career, she is nevertheless encouraging her in her own way.
“She does not want to show it but I know she believes I can do it,” says Thana. “She is inspiring and so supportive.”
After her studies and in the long-term, the young woman plans to move back to Yemen. Even though the situation is not very stable, she keeps hope seeing the joy still present in the streets. She also feels responsible to give back after the opportunities she received.
“I was privileged to get a scholarship because people believed I could go back home and do something with it,” she explains. “The US or Canada do not need me, they have their own people. It is Yemen who needs me the most.”Français
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