Yemeni artist, Ahed Al Kathiri, finds inspiration in her memories of home. She grew up in Dubai where she recently finished her bachelor’s degree in fine art. Her installation Home Dreaming exhibited during Dubai Design Week in November 2022 was part of her senior project for graduation. Here she tells us more about how her Yemeni heritage inspires her art.
“Ahed Al Kathiri’s work proposes a meaning of home that is constructed from within oneself;
utilising memories that form an intimate connection to her grandmother’s house.”
The fact that she was outside of Yemen, in Abu Dhabi, plays a significant role in Ahed’s deep bond with her grandmother and family members, as well as her desire to sustain the connection she has with Yemen and its heritage. Ahed has two distinct memories of childhood and home which she incorporates into her work. One is of her grandmother, whom she represents by using fabrics from her old dresses, and the second is the traditional Yemeni stained-glass windows known as qamariyat. Repurposing fabrics in her work is a way of sustaining a home within herself, a reminder that a specific place becomes a home because of how we act within it, and the ways in which we preserve and nourish it.
“Her memories of her grandmother sewing domestic objects from recycled fabric make it an intimate act.
Using these objects always reinforced and maintained the warmth of home. It is therefore an intimate act of sustainability.”
The essence of my Grandmother
“My mother’s family is from Rada’a in the north but lives in Sana’a now. My father’s family is from Hadramout in the south but most of them live in Dubai now. We used to go to Sana’a every summer but since the war started, we have not been back. I only started working with fabrics in my fourth year. This project is the second in a series that started with a set of abstract pillows made from my grandmother’s clothes. The pillows manifest the warmth and happiness I associate with my grandmother’s house in Yemen. It is also a tribute to my grandmother’s sewing.”
It was her grandmother’s custom to leave some of her clothes, usually, traditional dresses called dera, behind when she visited. Partly to pass down items she does not need anymore, and partly to leave a memory or something tangible as a reminder. A dera is a very simple garment made of colourful printed fabric. Depending on the occasion it is intended for, can be richly embellished. The fabrics, mostly imported from Iran, were usually purchased in Aden. Ahed’s grandmother did not always sew her own clothes but bought them from the market or from tailors, but she often repurposed her old dresses into cushion covers and other household goods.
“Once I started working with the fabrics, I studied the labels and branding on the fabric. The garments worn by my mother and grandmother were slightly different than those I saw worn by my paternal aunts who hailed from the south.”
“My grandmother did not give a lot of thought to matching the patterns or colours but combined patterns and colours indiscriminately. She was more interested in making things for her home and for us, her grandchildren. I associate this vibrant mix of colours and patterns with her love, her happiness, and her wish to share this joy with us. My memory of Yemen is my memory of my grandmother’s house. That is home to me. My grandmother’s clothes still carry her smell even after it has been washed many times. Cutting it and using it in my art means more to me than donating clothes to other people.”
This installation signifies a roof, a place, a home, and a belonging. The shapes are inspired by qamariyat, the traditional stained-glass windows that are an important architectural feature of any home in Sana’a. These windows are always positioned above the main windows to allow light in while protecting the privacy of the people inside the house.
To me, this protection element is very important. The root of the word qamariyat means moon as it lets the moonlight in. These windows combine the functions of view, lighting, ventilation, protection, and privacy, all elements Ahed associates with home.
“I handsewn layers of fabric onto the metal wire to give me flexibility and room to play with. Some people say it reminds them of butterflies or kites. Yemen is often associated with conflict, but to me, my Yemeni home represents happiness and happy memories. And my grandmother is the essence of my work.”
Text and Textile
My childhood memories, my grandmother’s house, and the written word inspire all my work. I started my art journey by working with text. It was when I decided to screen-print them onto fabric that I discovered textiles as a medium. I wrote a monologue about how I associate qamariyat with home, with being there and with being present. In my writing, I often refer to Yemen as the Land of the Qamariyat. With my textile art, I create my own space, both physical and emotional – the Yemen that I don’t have. The Land of the Qamiriyat. Home Dreaming.
Ahed Al Kathiri plans to pursue her master’s degree in fine art in 2023 where she wants to continue exploring textiles.
Read more about the traditional dress of Yemen in this insightful series written by Darleen Wilkerson Karpowicz.
Read more about the silver jewellery from Yemen in these articles by Sigrid van Roode, and Brid Beeler.
Read more about Marjorie Ransom’s book Silver Treasures from the Land of Sheba here.