ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Shaima Al-Tamimi as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Shaima Al-Tamimi is a Yemeni-East African visual storyteller based in Qatar. Her work is inspired by social and cultural issues reflective of her own personal story. She explores themes relating to patterns and impacts of intergenerational trauma, societal culture and healing.
She was a Photography & Social Justice 2020 Fellow at the Magnum Foundation where she developed her award winning film Don’t Get Too Comfortable, which was nominated for the Orizzonti Award for Best Short film at Venice Film Festival (La Biennale) and won the Bronze Tanit Award at Carthage Film Festival in 2021. Her works have been supported by the Arab Documentary Photography program, Women Photograph, the Prince Claus Fund, and Tasweer, to name a few.
In addition to her artistic endeavors, Shaima is a development consultant for YWT, a Yemeni organization that offers funding and mentorship to creative Yemeni talents in and out of Yemen.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Shaima Al-Tamimi: For the past couple of years, a big portion of my work focused on exploring patterns of intergenerational trauma and healing. With migration running deep into our ancestry as Yemenis, I felt the urge to explore and question a plethora of issues to get to the bottom of where I place myself (and my community) within my life. More often than not, we grew up feeling somewhat alienated and disconnected from our cultural norms which I partially attribute to the lack of representation in the media, films, books and educational fields. I wanted my work to offer some insight into stories from Yemen, from a personal perspective, and to share space with people with whom it would resonate.
AE: You were a 2020 Photography and Social Justice Fellow with the Magnum Foundation. What was that experience like and how did it affect your approach to conceiving and making work?
SAT: My time as a fellow at MF was life changing and one that I am grateful for. I grew as a person and an artist tremendously from that experience and started seeing things more clearly. If anything, it made me become a lot more critical to topics I approach, which in turn informs the way I research and create.
AE: Tell us about your film, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, which was nominated for the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film at the 78th edition of the Venice Film Festival. What was the process of creating this film and what challenges did you face along the way?
SAT: Don’t Get Too Comfortable is a heartfelt introspective letter to my deceased grandfather. The letter questions the continuous pattern of movement amongst Yemenis in diaspora. The film fuses archival photographs, sourced footage, parallax animation, and abstract videos to create an audio-visual body of work that calls attention to the collective feeling of statelessness and realities felt by Yemeni (or non-Yemeni) migrants.
The film was conceived during my fellowship at Magnum Foundation. I was blessed to have access to mentors whose feedback and encouragement helped tremendously. I would say a big part of how the project transformed into a film was because I wanted to push myself and stretch the medium of photography to moving images, which opened up the gates of experimentation to a whole new level. I worked closely with my producer and animator, Mayar Hamdan, who was able to chime in on aspects such as film editing and parallaxing which was a technique we used in various moments of the film. I am a huge advocate for collaborating with other professionals to overcome challenges that will only help elevate the end result.
AE: Much of your work encompasses a documentary approach to storytelling. Your film, Don’t Get Too Comfortable however, features your family and personal experiences. How did you navigate this shift of subjectivity and how do you think it impacted the reception of your work?
SAT: Honestly, I wasn’t as hesitant about turning the lens towards myself and my family as I was in the past. Having experienced this via my previous project, As if we never came, I realized how therapeutic it was to delve deeper and self-reflect. I had to tell myself that I was making this for myself above anyone else, which is a strategy that helped me overcome the fear of facing one’s trauma. I still had to navigate certain aspects with much delicacy given the need to respect the culture of privacy practiced in our part of the world, and if anything, it only resulted in finding creative ways to deal with limitations rather than stopping the work all together.
AE: Can you tell us about your current commissioned photography project with Qatar Museums?
SAT: I was commissioned by the Qatar Museum to create a project for the Art Mill Museum, opening in 2030. The building that will become the museum is currently the Qatar Flour Mills; a vast building complex where the majority of Qatar’s bread is produced. I am very honored to have the opportunity to document the flour mill before it shifts to a tucked away part of the outer city. That being said, my approach is multilayered. My project includes fifteen large scale photographs documenting the everyday operations of the bakery; as well as a photographing thirty varieties of breads pertaining to the diverse communities that live in Qatar.
My interest in culinary anthropology led me to focus on this bakery because of what it represents, being the main producer of the nation’s bread, and conceptually what it means from an operational perspective. While it symbolizes sustenance across cultures, it also says a lot about the state of a country and speaks of history, wealth, inequality and peace.
As a child to immigrant parents, living in Qatar has exposed us to other cuisines, languages and experiences while living here. I chose to approach this work through the nationalities living in Doha as a way of paying tribute to those who have come here to seek opportunities away from their homes and families to better their lives.
I view this work as an intimate study on the typology of bread, a micro perspective on the result of the diverse output of using (mainly) two basic ingredients, flour and water from the Levant, to South Asia, North Africa and the Khaleej.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
SAT: As a Yemeni/East African living in the Khaleej, coming from a multicultural background gives me great access to observing things from multiple perspectives. Being an outsider, in most cases, allows me to always view things from an observatory point of view and then channel that into my creative thinking.
AE: What are you currently working on and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2022-2023?
SAT: I am almost done wrapping up working on the upcoming project with Qatar Museums. This marks a shift in my practice, in which I feel as though I am ready to expand on topics beyond the personal, and towards other areas that I am interested in, such as culinary anthropology. There will be a preliminary exhibition to showcase the project documenting the flour mill in October 2022, before it moves to its permanent home at the Art Mill Museum in 2030. Simultaneously, I am also going to festivals with my film which is still on its festival tour phase. Balancing all those commitments and maintaining my mental well being is what I am focused on at the moment. Going through burn out is not fun, and it’s important for me to avoid feeling rushed to keep on creating and working without rest.
SHAIMA AL-TAMIMI ONLINE