Artist Spotlight with Thana Faroq Lyla, from “I was younger yesterday,” 2019-2020, Digital print

Artist Spotlight with Thana Faroq

Posted: Jul 1, 2021

ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Thana Faroq as part of our Artist Spotlight series.

Thana Faroq is a Yemeni photographer and educator based in the Netherlands. She works with photography, texts, sound, and the physicality of the image itself as a way to respond to the changes that have been shaping and defining her life and sense of belonging both in Yemen and the Netherlands

Her work mirrors her life and provides a visual echo of her voice as she gracefully negotiates themes of migration, post-memory, and intergenerational trauma. Thana has a unique approach to working with her subjects in that she regularly returns to them to continue sharing their journey. Many of these migrant, stateless individuals were with Thana during her transitional period.

Amongst her honors, Thana was a recipient of the 2018 inaugural Open Society Foundation Fellowship Grant and the 2019 Arab Documentary Fund supported by the Prince Claus Fund and Magnum Foundation. Zenith magazine reporting grant in 2019 and in 2020  Thana was selected by the British journal of photography among the Ones to Watch.

ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?

Thana Faroq: Having emigrated to the Netherlands during the Yemeni Civil War, I focus on exploring the changes that have shaped and defined my life, specifically about my sense of belonging (and not belonging) both in Yemen and the Netherlands. My point of photographic production and arrangement comes from a place of deep understanding, of empathy, and of carnal experience. I work with images, texts, and sound. My work for the past three years has been about settling myself in the unfamiliar, and negotiating themes of memory, and intergenerational trauma. I question what ‘home’ means. What does it mean to live in a place that is half-remembered, and half-envisioned?

AE: Why has it been important for you to share your personal experiences with immigration and displacement through your work?

TF: Mainly because I question whether photography can visualize trauma. It’s not easy to talk about trauma while you’re living in it because you can’t recognize it. The images and the words that are created from my own experience serve as a record, a healing method to register and validate my emotions and experiences. These questions are part of my practice and the answers can be less difficult to access if I increasingly seek to center my own story in the frame.

AE: You grew up in Yemen and migrated to the Netherlands to seek asylum. You also decided to get your MFA which you are currently completing. Can you elaborate on the changes that have developed in your practice since arriving in Europe and why you decided to pursue an MFA?

TF: I allowed myself to be open and curious, to engage with whatever possibility comes my way, all the while remaining very much connected to who I am as a photographer, my background, my position and interests. I endeavoured to surprise myself by letting go of certain (visual) narratives and styles that were so core to my previous work, and instead sought an unfamiliar playfulness, infused with intimacy. I found these to be the keys to the direction I am going.

As for pursuing an MFA at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, I wanted to learn more about the Dutch art scene and photography. I thought that this could also be a way to integrate into a new society. Spending two years in an art school exposing myself to new methods and tools of making was essential to building up my practice. This was important if I wanted to go to uncomfortable places in my work.  

AE: Your work both includes reflections on your personal journey as well as the stories of other immigrants or asylum seekers. Why was it important for you to include and preserve both these perspectives in your work? How has the absence of having your own family close by impacted the work that you began doing with other immigrants?

TF: That’s right, I get lost in other people’s lives too and I have adopted a unique approach to working with my participants in that I regularly return to them to continue sharing their journey. Many of these migrants, refugees, and stateless individuals were with me during my transitional period in the Netherlands. I can’t tell the story on my own; what I love about photography is that I can use it as the perfect tool to foster social practice and engage the participants in my work. Not only does this empower the work and my participants, but it also allows me to discover bigger themes and pressing questions. 

I would like to believe that I create work as an outcome of the absence of my camera in a place where I no longer live (Yemen). And this has impacted my work. The notion of loss and absence are new themes that I intend to experiment with in mixed media approaches.

AE: In your work, you explore the liminality of memory as a whole, how memories are constructed and how they can be reconstructed. How have your recollections of Yemen shifted since moving to the Netherlands?

TF: To me, memory now  is a way to construct a sense of temporal belonging. We want to remember things to create different ways of feeling at home, feeling safe, feeling whole. Since I moved to the Netherlands I wanted to document our collective trauma and memories, but in a way I wanted to connect to my temporal belonging to a place that was half-remembered, and half-envisioned in my head: home which is Yemen in this case.

AE: Are you currently working on any new projects that you can share with us?

TF: I am currently working on a new project, There is a Blue Sky Today and No Rain. This project aims to explore the personal narratives and complex emotional landscape of the lives of a small group of young women and girls living in exile here in the Netherlands. The work will reflect on our life journeys, and it will seek to project forward toward futures both real and metaphorical. My goal is to explore our emotional interior landscape in light of the changes that we go through. To explore them, describe them in vignettes of conversation, talk about them, and reveal them.

My influences of this work come from multi-disciplinary visual references, poetry and art, the work of feminists writers that I admire, the day to day conversions I have with the women I photograph and of course my autobiographical memory of the topic. 



Instagram: @thanafaroq7