Yassin Ghaleb: The Yemeni Artist Who Turned Rubbish into Art
By: Menal Elmaliki / Arab America Contributing Writer
Yassin Ghaleb is a Yemeni artist of extraordinary talent. He is a Yemeni architect and artist; he was born and raised in Taiz, Yemen. He married Fadilah al-Hamed, a psychology student and had four kids with her.
Ghaleb is a well-known artist that has earned international recognition. Many of his customers come from different parts of the world. To artists like him, art is a form of expression and he uses it to show appreciation and homage to his heritage and cultural identity. His art is a balance between surrealism and minimalism and he is most famous for turning rubbish into art.
Despite the haunting of war, Ghaleb was able to keep his spirits alive by turning the ugly into something beautiful and worthwhile. Ghaleb says, “We will find good ideas for our children who are the creators of the future, and this means creativity from normal circumstances”. He manages to utilize this item that is polluting Yemen and transform it into paintings and sculptures.
Ghaleb has acknowledged that he cannot fight the inevitable factors brought on by war, corruption, and pollution but rather he can create a temporary oasis, a form of escapism from the bitter reality. At times of difficulties as he struggled to earn a living, art was his light, his hope that paved the way into a bigger project. His house has become an art and now serves as a museum, welcoming both natives and tourists.
At the top of the mountain, an idyllic scene of stone bricks, shrubbery, trees, and a view of the city of Sana’a, sits Yassin Ghaleb’s house. He has dedicated his entire house to his art. He believes art to be immersive and refers to his dwelling as an art project or an entity of fine art. Art has become therapeutic to not only him but those who come to view his art.
Art and artifacts inside Yassin Ghaleb’s museum house. Photo Source: Aisha Aljaedy
In general, art must give the viewer a sense of the artist’s identity and in the case of Ghaleb, his art is an illustration of his Yemeni identity. His art highlights his love and source of inspiration, his Yemeni heritage and culture.
The walls of his house are laced with a diverse array of art pieces, some of Yemeni women, some of Sanaa’s famous architecture. The walls not only display his art but the art of his family; his wife, children, and even extended family. As a way of promoting creativity and salvaging what’s left of Yemen’s sanity, he has encouraged his kids to draw and paint. Him and his family utilize rubbish, painting on paper, glass, plastic and wood.
Yassin sees even his own occupation, architecture, as an art, “an inspiration, a resource, an identity and as history.” Yemen’s rich ancient and modern history is his source of inspiration. Graduated with a degree in architecture and in 1988 he began his “artistic journey.” He encourages art unto his children, stating it ignites individualism, own sense of style. They sow cloth and cut glass to create “abstract and surreal artwork.”
War has caused bitterness and the cure in turning that bitterness into betterment is art. Art has been an antidote in providing relief in war-torn Yemen. In the midst of a civil war, he finds means of escapism through his art, he feels that his house is an open canvas, and he can design it however he can.
He’s found it difficult to find work since 2014, the Houthi rebels had created a fission of the Yemeni central government. The rebels have forced President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi out of Sanaa and since then the economy has been spiraling downwards. The war has killed thousands of people, displaced many out of their homes, forced them into poverty, and cut many jobs and wages especially those in the public sector. War is a spoilage; it ruins everyday life and turns simple necessities and luxuries. Increased poverty, poor economy, and a lack of a central government has turned citizens bitter.
Despite Ghaleb’s passion for art, it has proved to be a financial burden due to the insatiability of the Yemeni economy. Art materials are difficult to source and to maintain. His art provided additional income to the family but the war had made it difficult for Yassin to sell his artwork, “In the past, there used to be a significant demand from tourists for artwork, especially pieces like Ghaleb’s that mix abstraction with heritage.“
Expression through arts is a luxury and artists like Yassin Ghaleb hope that one day Yemen is stable enough to promote artistic and cultural life. He hopes that the vision he has in his mind of Yemen being a beacon of light, a country with flourishing tourism and an acceptance of differences will become a reality.
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