By the beginning of 2011, the Arab World experienced political disturbances as revolutions started erupting from one country to another. Yemen was no exception. What has been called ‘The Change Square’ was filled with Yemeni youth, who aspired to a build a new Yemen that was enough for all. New hopes were ignited, and a new era of equal rights and opportunities was just beyond the horizon. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned, and the country has not been able to rest ever since. A war by the Saudi-led Coalition struck in 2015 and is still on until this very day. These crises, however; did not break the will of the people. The Yemeni youth might have left the squares, but they have been fighting back ever since. Not through weapons, but rather through creative productions that have now become a travelling exhibition curated by Hanan Yahya.
“Stories Never Told” is a traveling exhibit that features the creative productions (music, poetry, film, visual art, etc) of 24 Yemeni artists from around the world. It piloted in Detroit, Michigan in 2019 and will travel to various US cities and beyond. The stories behind the art pieces and the artists reflect the impact of Yemen’s crises and also embody its artistic renaissance and resistance.
Hanan Yahya – curator of Stories Never Told – is a Yemeni American raised in Detroit. She graduated from the University of Michigan where she majored in Urban Studies and Entrepreneurship. She is an alumna at the same university she graduated from and works as the Community and Policy Coordinator for Detriout City Council. Hanan is also the Michigan representative of the Yemeni Alliance Committee, a coalition of activists across the USA who advocate for human rights and represent the voices and needs of Yemenis and Yemeni-American communities.
Inspired by her growing love and inspiration of the creative Yemeni talent discovered on social media, Hanan’s project Stories Never Told came to life. For the past several years after the war began, she believed that there was very little being done in the US, as it relates to the crisis, and her advocacy work–no doubt–took a creative spin with this unique project. A mere rally or a fundraising dinner was not enough for all the things she wanted to accomplish. She wanted to raise awareness and dispel myths about Yemen’s crises and the Yemeni people, as well as showcase Yemeni talents and generate access to worldwide opportunities. Her aim was also to collect donations that she could send back home to Yemen Relief and other reconstruction foundations. Finally, she wanted to motivate people to take action and encouraged advocacy and resistance.
The opening night of the show was at Hamtramck Michigan on Friday July 14th. Hamtramck is home to one of the most concentrated, long-standing Yemeni-American communities in the US. Doors opened at 6 PM and the program began at 7:30 PM. Over 60 people were in attendance, a mixed crowd of different backgrounds and age groups. Visitors were served Yemeni coffee and sweets as they enjoyed the show. Alissa Shelton, Director and Founder of the community space called “Bank Suey”, welcomed everyone and Hanan was then invited to share some welcoming remarks in her capacity of exhibition curator. Following the introductions, the one hour short film program began. The program was comprised of 10 Yemeni-directed short films. The exhibit space was opened, again, for another hour before the program ended.
Regarding the outcome of “Stories Never Told”, Hanan says that the it has been fantastic! They have had over 300 attendees to four exhibit locations all over Southeast Michigan and over $1500 has been raised. “More important than the numbers, we’ve been able to reach the hearts and minds of these people. Both Yemenis and non-Yemenis walk away with a heavy heart and feel that the exhibit is a powerful and enlightening project. Many people have told me they feel both, inspired and sorrowful, angry and humbled,” says Hanan.
I left stories never told with many feelings tonight; an especially deep sadness over the state of Yemen, yet an incredible pride in the amount of creative talent that was on display from Yemenis around the world. Especially the filmmakers.” — Idrees Mutahr