“Yemen is not an easy place to access, but with a combination of naive curiosity and luck, I was able to visit during a brief and relatively calm period in 2014”, says 30-year-old Lebanese photographer, Ayla Hibri, who shot her ‘Arabia Felix’ series over two weeks.
The series, which focuses on a ‘brighter side’ of Yemen, was made in a bid to raise awareness about the dwindling optimism in the country, which has been at war since 2015.
“I was genuinely moved by Sanaa. I was in awe of the mind-blowing architecture, skyscrapers made of mud, the preserved traditions, and the non-stop chewing of Qat – an amphetamine-like stimulant. Yemen stands out from many other Arab countries that I have visited. In many ways, its lifestyle and aesthetics do not try and emulate European countries like many other Arab countries do. It is true that Qat has hurt water resources and agriculture in Yemen and also that people openly carry weapons, but the Yemeni civilization and traditions are fragile gems that have stood the test of time.”
Ayla does not shoot to shock, inform or beautify; her photography is about slowing down time and showing the real in all its complexities. “My photography is about the invisible. I collect visual data on the poetics and psychogeography of places. It is a way of life, of processing our existence, and satisfying my curiosity. The more I take photos, the larger my network of understanding becomes.”
Ayla’s choice to go to Yemen was not deliberately ‘political’. She says, “I look for poetry to trigger the imagination and to create a sense of awareness about the fact that we are all the same and that we are in this together.”