Yemeni artist finds ‘value of life’ in paintings

Yafei has won several awards, including Yemen’s Presidential Award in 2007, the Ministry of Tourism’s Award for the best landscape painting, the European Union Delegation Award and the Dubai Cultural Award.
Sunday 10/03/2019
A painting by Yemeni artist Zaki al-Yafei. (Al Arab)
A tribute to heritage. A painting by Yemeni artist Zaki al-Yafei. (Al Arab)

RIYADH - Yemeni artist Zaki al-Yafei has an incredible ability to paint faces, horses and Yemeni landscapes. The level of detail and the accuracy of the faces in his paintings are a glimpse of this artist’s talent.

A down-to-earth person in character and behaviour, Yafei said he was naturally attracted to the Realist school of painting. He worked on developing his skills and abilities by studying the foundations of this school of art, such as anatomy, perspective, proportions or the colour wheel.

Growing up in an atmosphere filled with tradition and heritage, Yafei said he developed a deep-rooted interest in patrimonial elements and all that is old and authentic. Yafei has assumed the duty of representing Yemeni landscapes, of transferring the elements of the environment onto canvas, thereby transmitting a message that spreads the country’s ancient heritage.

He embodied this heritage by capturing Yemeni sartorial specificities, old trades and craftsmen and historical buildings. He focused particularly on painting people from the poorer classes, representing their conditions and illustrating their sorrows and suffering in his work.

He said he feels that he produces art that is connected and relevant to people, using the artistic medium to convey their message to the rest of society.

“Art that carries a humane message is art that is beautiful close to the hearts of the public,” Yafei said. “Much of my work depicts the elderly in detail and that is because they have a clear and frank identity. I also have a special appreciation for this older generation. It is generous and loving and still clings to the land and the trees.”

Yafei has won several awards, including Yemen’s Presidential Award in 2007, the Ministry of Tourism’s Award for the best landscape painting, the European Union Delegation Award and the Dubai Cultural Award. He has represented Yemen in many exhibitions and festivals abroad.

Talking with Yafei about his aspirations as an artist will inevitably turn to a discussion about the obstacles that artists face in Yemeni and Arab societies. “The artist constantly hopes that these circumstances change,” said Yafei. “Yemen lacks many of the factors and conditions that could vitalise the artistic scene, such as galleries or exhibits, which would lift the public’s taste. There is also a lack of art universities, institutes and events. This results in poor popular engagement with the arts and a paucity of artistic culture.”

“Only a few people are interested in the visual arts in Yemen, especially those who have lived abroad,” he said. “Artists aspire to overcome these frustrating factors and wish for the art scene to rise to the expectations of the Yemeni creative personality.

“I know that it will not be an easy task, especially since Arabs, in general, lack the culture of the painting. It is valued less than other possessions and luxuries that do not even deserve to be compared to a work of art.”

He added: “For me, art is what makes me appreciate the value of life and its sweet taste. I feel like I fully and beautifully live every day in which I paint. This is why I distance myself from the evil we see in the humanitarian crises and especially in the political landscape.

“I paint to forget all the dreadful things around me. I heal myself from stress and treat anxiety through painting. Painting and art are tremendous energy that I feel flowing inside me. I am over the moon once I am done discharging it on the white canvas.”

Silent features. A painting depicting an elderly man by  Zaki al-Yafei.    (Al Arab)
Silent features. A painting depicting an elderly man by Zaki al-Yafei. (Al Arab)
Flowing energy. A painting  of a Yemeni horse by Zaki  al-Yafei.   (Al Arab)
Flowing energy. A painting of a Yemeni horse by Zaki al-Yafei. (Al Arab)
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