“Stories Never Told: Yemen’s Crisis & Renaissance,” a traveling display exhibiting Yemeni artistic expression inspired by Yemen’s war and humanitarian crises, opened Friday evening in Weiser Hall. The exhibit, organized by local Yemeni-American social entrepreneur Hanan Ali Yahya, included artwork, poetry and short films highlighting the pain and suffering felt by ordinary Yemenis living through the country’s civil war.
Shireen Al-Adeimi, assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University, provided background information and statistics about the war in Yemen and why it constitutes a major humanitarian crisis.
Al-Adeimi first mentioned how the war started, noting the 2011 rise of the Houthis, a Shia Islamic movement, in opposition to the authoritarian rule of then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The role of the United States, Al-Adeimi stated, includes strikes against suspected terrorists through drone warfare authorized by Congress, and assisting the intervention of Saudi military forces in the conflict.
“I want to emphasize that without substantial U.S. support, it’s really difficult for the Saudi-led coalition to continue to wage this war,” Al-Adeimi said.
After Al-Adeimi, Yahya spoke about her motivations for curating this exhibit and having it displayed in venues across Michigan and the United States.
“I realized that rallies and educational awareness, you know, like typical presentations were just not enough for me anymore,” Yahya said. “I was getting tired of it because it was very draining, and there was little hope and little comfort given when you do that kind of stuff, and I wanted to share that piece of hope and do that kind of advocacy in a different way, and the exhibit was the exact kind of direction I wanted to go (in).”
Yahya continued by saying she is a medium through which residents of Yemen and refugees from the country can reveal stories of their emotional turmoil.
“And I think that’s one of the things that I hope you walk away with today, to hear their stories, to learn more about these human beings, these fellow human beings who have struggled so much in their lives, and are everywhere across the world,” Yahya said.
Afterward, Al-Adeimi considered statistical evidence of the intense humanitarian impact of the war in Yemen.
“Over 80 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian aid,” Al-Adeimi said. “16.4 million people lack access to basic health care, so children often die of diseases that are completely preventable.”
Furthermore, Al-Adeimi stated the crisis in Yemen includes the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, with over 1.3 million suffering from the disease. Al-Adeimi said 14 million people — half of the country’s population — are facing famine.
The audience was then shown a series of short films, all produced by residents of and refugees from Yemen who were impacted emotionally and physically by the war. After presenting the films, Yahya and Al-Adeimi took questions and gave important commentary about the work presented.
“The war, the conflict, and the situation have caused artists to turn to art as a means to share their stories,” Yahya said. “Some of the filmmakers were just regular students that had an interest in film and thought that pursuing it might be their only way to find an opportunity elsewhere.”
Engineering senior Aziz Fall found the event on social media and said he was interested by how the artwork and films at the exhibit made the issues in Yemen more personal.
“I think this experience was great and I think the work that they’re doing is great,” Fall said. “I feel like more people should come to this. I guess it’s not firsthand, but it’s like as close to first hand as you can get in learning about Yemenis and the crisis that they’re going through.”
LSA senior Azhar Aboubaker is the president of the Yemeni Students’ Association at the University of Michigan. She said she thought it was important that Al-Adeimi mentioned the U.S. intervention in the war.
“A lot of people want to talk about Yemen in the context of just internal politics and they don’t want to talk about the U.S.’s role in it,” Aboubaker said. “So I was really happy to hear that.”
David Serio, an educator and public programmer at the Arab American National Museum, helped organize the event. He said he sought to present the voices of Yemeni artists, filmmakers and writers because they often go unheard.
“When we look back in history at this unfortunate event, you’ll hear the numbers, you’ll hear the devastating facts, the deaths, and things like that, which is really important,” Serio said. “But you won’t hear about the personal stories, the personal experiences, the daily lives of these people and for me it’s super important to collect them and to showcase them.”