American born from Yemeni parents Ibi Ibrahim (27) is an interdisciplinary artist who is very much influenced by his Yemeni identity. With his first solo exhibition in the Middle East, Light, Leaves and Yemeni Coffee, Ibrahim brings attention to Yemeni’s important export product: coffee.
Ibi Ibrahim exhibits a selection of abstract photographs and coffee paintings in Light, Leaves and Yemeni Coffee. “This body of work was the result of my three-month art residency in Paris at the Cité internationale des arts. I wanted to embark on a new body of work, and being in a new work environment enabled me to experiment in photography and also in new mediums and of course the work had to reflect on my Yemeni identity, as it is something I am very much influenced by.”
Yemen is one of the oldest sites of coffee cultivation, the first place where it was consumed as a beverage and the original crossroads of civilization from where it was traded from Africa to the consumers of the world. While Yemen has been long known for its Arabic coffee and is the birthplace of Mocha, coffee production has dwindled in recent years. The country’s coffee industry suffers from difficult terrain, severe drought and political instability that make farming extraordinarily difficult. “With my Yemeni coffee paintings, I aim to question the government on the economic decline of coffee production and exportation in Yemen; the land where coffee was discovered in the 15th century; and today Yemen is one of the lowest countries in producing and exporting coffee. I find myself continuing to produce works with a reference to my Yemeni identity whether it’s aiming to investigate discussions or questioning the role of the government”, says the artist.
His previous work touched on issues of sexuality, gender and tradition and addressed controversial topics that conflict with the Yemeni society’s traditions.
“I am a young Yemeni and I have many thoughts and opinions about the country, the society, the government and I have my work acting as my voice to express what I think, what I’d like to suggest. Between 2010 and 2012, I aimed for my work to instigate discussions among Yemen’s youth on issues that revolve around gender equality, sexuality and censorship.”
He also likes to ‘shock’ his audience, he wants his work to have an impact on the viewer’s mind. “Those rather shocking pieces of my Social Codes series served as a bridge between the rest of the work and the viewer. I made this body of work in my early 20s, representing the young and outspoken sector of the society. We’re clearly rebelling against our conservative societies and trying to change many habits and traditions that are suppressing us.”
According to Ibrahim the art scene in Yemen keeps on declining as the security situation in Yemen continues to worsen. There are no galleries and the national museum has been inactive for at least two years. Being a Yemeni artist is quite a challenge in the country. Many Yemeni artists have therefore left the country. “Photography is the medium in Yemen most used by many young artists and they often find social media to be a good outlet to display their work, and some of them are able to exhibit their work in bars or underground art centers such as the art foundation Basement, which is virtually the only active art hub in Yemen, enabling artists to not only exhibit their creations but also to take part in intellectual and artistic discussions throughout the frequent lectures and other activities there. Regardless of the situation, I still have high hopes for Yemeni contemporary art and this hope continues to inspire me as an artist, and many others living inside and outside Yemen.”
Ibrahim recently finished an art residency in Berlin where he worked on a new phase of making Yemeni coffee paintings. He currently has two exhibitions running: ReOrientations: Defining and Defying 19th-Century French Images of the Arab World at Colorado College (25 March –7 May 2015). Double Tap ll in the Malja in Bahrain (29 March – 30 April). “I am now researching and gathering data for a new project and until it is confirmed, I will continue making paintings. I also plan to revisit my series Social Codes and make new black and white photographs.”