Buildings That Fill My Eye: The Architectural Heritage Of Yemen
Forthcoming Photographic Exhibition,
July 12th 2017 – September 23rd 2017
Brunei Gallery, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London
Curated by Trevor H.J. Marchand, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, SOAS
Yemen possesses one of the world’s finest treasure-troves of architecture. Three of its ancient cities – Shibam, Sanā and Zabīd – are UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, and a number of other towns and building complexes around the country await inclusion.
The exhibition and its planned public talks and educational events will explore the astonishing variety of building styles and traditions that have evolved over millennia in a region of diverse terrains, extreme climates and distinctive local histories. Generations of highly-skilled masons, carpenters and craftspeople have deftly employed the materials-to-hand and indigenous technologies to create urban architectural assemblages, gardens and rural landscapes that dialogue harmoniously with the natural contours and conditions of southern Arabia. In turn, the place-making practices of Yemen’s builders have played a significant role in fostering tight-knit communities with a strong sense of pride and distinct cultural identities.
Conflict and resistance, too, have contributed to the history of Yemeni design, town planning, and civil engineering. Yemen’s built environment is characterised by sturdy forts and fortifications; towering houses with windowless ground storeys and heavy timber doors; steeply-terraced mountainsides for cultivation; deep lime-plastered water cisterns; fine arched bridges, and vast networks of stone-paved pathways connecting strategically-perched mountaintop villages. These features have aroused the aesthetic sensibilities of visitors for centuries, but they also speak of a requisite need for domination, defensibility, and self-sufficiency during times of attack or siege.
Regrettably, a sharp escalation in violence in the country since the 1990s has culminated in hydra-headed conflict, involving international adversaries. This has resulted in thousands of civilian fatalities and millions more displaced and on the brink of starvation. The region’s rich cultural heritage, too, has been a casualty of the conflict. The principal objective of this exhibition, therefore, is to remind the public of Yemen’s tremendous cultural creativity and the need for international collaboration to protect it and its people from the destructive forces that have beset the region.