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Buildings That Fill My Eye: The Architectural Heritage Of Yemen

July 13th 2017 – September 23rd 2017
Brunei Gallery, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London
Open: Tuesday - Saturday 10.30 - 5.00pm,
Late night: Thursday 10.30 - 8.00pm
Closed: Monday & Sunday

The exhibition and its planned public talks and educational events explore the astonishing variety of building styles and traditions that have evolved over millennia in a region of diverse terrains, extreme climates and distinctive local histories. Generations of highly-skilled masons, carpenters and craftspeople have deftly employed the materials-to-hand and indigenous technologies to create urban architectural assemblages, gardens and rural landscapes that dialogue harmoniously with the natural contours and conditions of southern Arabia. In turn, the place-making practices of Yemen’s builders have played a significant role in fostering tight-knit communities with a strong sense of pride and distinct cultural identities.

Conflict and resistance, too, have contributed to the history of Yemeni design, town planning, and civil engineering. Yemen’s built environment is characterised by sturdy forts and fortifications; towering houses with windowless ground storeys and heavy timber doors; steeply-terraced mountainsides for cultivation; deep lime-plastered water cisterns; fine arched bridges, and vast networks of stone-paved pathways connecting strategically-perched mountaintop villages. These features have aroused the aesthetic sensibilities of visitors for centuries, but they also speak of a requisite need for domination, defensibility, and self-sufficiency during times of attack or siege.

Regrettably, a sharp escalation in violence in the country since the 1990s has culminated in hydra-headed conflict, involving international adversaries. This has resulted in thousands of civilian fatalities and millions more displaced and on the brink of starvation. The region’s rich cultural heritage, too, has been a casualty of the conflict. The principal objective of this exhibition, therefore, is to remind the public of Yemen’s tremendous cultural creativity and the need for international collaboration to protect it and its people from the destructive forces that have beset the region.

download the press release

Yemen Exhibition: List of Events

August 5 2017
Seminar for Arabian Studies, The British Museum, The Clore Education Centre
Keynote Lecture: Trevor Marchand, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, SOAS
Yemen’s Architectural Heritage in Peril
Yemen possesses one of the world’s finest treasure-troves of architecture, displaying a wondrous array of vernacular styles. Three of its ancient cities – Shibam, Sana'a and Zabid – are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and a number of other towns and building complexes around the country await inclusion on that list. Each urban setting possesses a distinct ‘sense of place’, resulting from a mixture of native ingenuity, available construction materials, social relations, religious practices and local histories. Conflict and resistance, too, have contributed significantly to the history of Yemeni building design, town planning and civil engineering. The current hydra-headed conflict, however, involving international adversaries divided along political and sectarian lines, poses a threat of unprecedented scale to the country’s architectural heritage. The lecture will take stock of the damage incurred as well as some of the current efforts to safeguard buildings and to sustain conservation programmes. It will also address factors - in addition to military conflict - that represent perhaps more enduring challenges to the survival of Yemen’s architecture and traditional building practices.

September 15 2017
SOAS, Khalili Lecture Theatre, Main Building, 6:00 pm
Noha Sadek, Independent Scholar, Paris.
Monuments of Faith and Power: Yemen’s Religious Architecture
With the advent of Islam, Yemen became an important centre of Islamic learning and architecture. Since the 7th century, succeeding dynasties constructed mosques, madrasas (educational institutions) and mausoleums whose architecture drew on the country’s ancient heritage and on new elements which reveal the impact of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade as well as ties with regional powers such as Egypt and India. This lecture will examine the style and iconography of Yemen’s religious architecture in order to show the diversity of designs, techniques and materials that reflect the country’s diverse geography and its rich history. Moreover, it will show the distinctive elements that render this architecture unique in the Islamic World.

September 22 2017
SOAS, Khalili Lecture Theatre, Main Building, 6:00 pm
St John Simpson, Assistant Keeper of the Department of the Middle East, British Museum
Views of Aden
Aden excites different views. It is a bleak waterless spot but offers multiple harbours and is ideally suited to commanding trade with the Western Indian Ocean and Red Sea and is a vital entrepot for the Yemeni interior. Its early history is vague but that is not the subject of this lecture, which looks instead at the neglected subject of its colonial architecture, how this was shaped by the changing requirements of British administrators and governments and how it appeared to visitors. This lecture is illustrated with photographs and postcards from the British Museum collection, and the accompanying messages sometimes add amusing insights into the life and sights in Aden over the course of the twentieth century.

In order to reserve a seat for any of the public events, please email [email protected] as seating is limited.

Please note that the views expressed throughout this event should not be interpreted as views held by the MBI Al Jaber Foundation.



Charity Reg. No. 1093439

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