Meet the Yemeni artist capturing her dreams of home
Art student creates nostalgic textile patterns that dream of home and raise questions about belonging and existence
Ahed Al Kathiri has devoted her art career to applying feelings of nostalgia to the decorative textile patterns she has been producing over the years.
A student at the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD) at the University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Al Kathiri grew up away from her home country of Yemen, something which she says made her suffer from a lack of belonging.
She began her painting career by adorning her canvases with frames, images and patterns expressive of the feelings of loneliness and estrangement many people go through when living away from home.
Born and raised in the UAE, she would visit Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, every summer, and spent two years in the war-torn country as a child.
“Due to my experience away from Yemen, I always question what home should be, and because of the current conflict I did lose sense of how to belong to Yemen,” she says. “Because of the ongoing conflict, I haven’t been to Yemen since 2013.”
Building a wonderland
Her patterned textiles, layered into various forms of ‘Qamariya’, or Arabic letters, reference how she has been dreaming of home. Qamariya is Arabic for the moon, a symbol of beauty and light in Arabic culture and literature. In Yemen, it refers to the semi-circled or crescent-shaped multi-coloured stained glass windows that are distinctive of Yemeni architecture.
Found in old buildings, particularly in the capital Sana’a, they adorn the city’s gingerbread skyline. These have captivated Al Kathiri since childhood and feature prominently in her textile designs. Some of her pieces also rekindle memories of her grandmother sewing domestic objects out of recycled fabric.
Of her most recent artworks, she says they “aim to build a personal, imaginary space of home. They are introspective, proposing a meaning of home from within one-self, my own emotions, relationships, memories, and daydreams.”
“I don’t want to build a perfect utopia of home, but rather to construct a wonderland that will allow me to constantly question and assert the ways of being, of existing in a place.”
Al Kathiri has been showcasing her work at exhibitions in the UAE, including at Dubai Design Week 2022.
Describing her contributions to Dubai Design Week, Al Kathiri wrote that she is interested in exploring “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 success as a young artist won her the CFAD Ambassador Award, given to students with a high academic standard and commitment to the college’s mission.
Drawing has been a passion for her since childhood. However, once she joined fine art school, stereotypes reinforced by traditional societies like hers became a hindrance.
“When I was applying to university, all four majors at CFAD had the lowest admission percentages,” she explains.
It is a pity, she says, to see many people in this part of the world underestimating how challenging and rigorous a fine arts and design curricula can be. “We put a lot of effort into our studio practices and studies,” she adds.
Completing her Bachelor of Arts degree, Al Kathiri is currently pursuing a masters program in Contemporary Art Practice at the Royal College of Art in London. “I hope this will open new and exciting opportunities abroad, but most importantly, equip me with knowledge and experience so that I can return as an art practitioner to the UAE and Middle East.”