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Ever wondered what it was like to take a brief yet insightful look into the heart of a community? To grasp at its essential roots, its day to day functioning and glance at life as you don’t know it? Then wonder no more…I was recently fortunate enough to take such a journey through the photographic exhibition titled “Little Yemen” at the Midlands Arts Centre by Sonia Audhali. It was more than just a series of pictures; it was a depiction of life from the eyes of an intrepid social observer who picked up the delicate nuances and intricate details of what it means to be Yemeni in the Midlands.
There is a contrast between images depicting daily life, women or men gathering at community centers to share common interests, explore their religious or political beliefs, cooking within the home, and the depth with which certain character portraits have been taken.
The pictures give so much information in true documentary style. You don’t just look at a group of people sitting down; you are made to feel absorbed by the environment they are in. Their surroundings feel familiar yet alien. It is England, but with a Yemeni twist! It works wonders in effortlessly stirring up the curiosity of the audience into the religious and cultural practices of this community, where capturing what it means to be Yemeni in the West Midlands is nothing short of an impressive effort in itself. What the exhibition does is show you the multiple dimensions of a community enveloped by their traditions and beliefs.
Two pictures on display particularly captured my attention, two very different portraits of Sonia’s father. Both images depicted Mr Audhali as a businessman, but the manner in which these pictures were taken revealed depth and intensity. One image portrayed a stern and committed entrepreneur, the other a softer portrait of a man burdened with many responsibilities.
Sonia’s talents are not limited to character portraits, the stillness of the images is shaken up by the vivid colours of the subject’s homes, attire and the rich culturally embedded practices taking place. You get a real feel for how learning about Islam, as well as practicing it, is at the heart of the community.
The exhibition does not fail to remind us how important it is to consider the multi-ethnic heritage of Great Britain today, laden with rich and intense cultures and passionate people.
By Farina Kokab
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham