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‘Buildings that Fill my Eye’: Architectural Heritage of Yemen

‘The exhibition was well received at the Brunei Gallery in London with over 8,000 visitors in addition to those who attended the launch and special events. It attracted much attention by highlighting the situation in Yemen over recent years and what is happening there now including the sad loss of so much of the country’s architectural heritage and all that disappears with that.’
–John Hollingworth, Brunei Gallery Manager


This exhibition and its accompanying book and public 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 indigenous technologies and the materials-to-hand to create urban architectural assemblages, gardens and rural landscapes that dialogue harmoniously with the contours and conditions of southern Arabia. In turn, the place-making practices of Yemen’s builders have played a critical role in fostering tight-knit communities with a strong sense of pride and cultural identity.


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, 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.


Tragically, a sharp escalation in violence in the country since 2015 has culminated in a hydra-headed conflict, involving international adversaries. There have been thousands of civilian fatalities and millions more have been displaced and are on the brink of starvation. The region’s rich cultural heritage, too, has been a casualty of the conflict. The aim of the exhibition and book is to remind the world of Yemen’s splendid material culture and the need for international collaboration to protect it and its people from the ravages of war and destruction.


The exhibition is curated by Trevor H.J. Marchand, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, SOAS. In London, it was sponsored by the MBI Al Jaber Foundation with additional support from Gingko Library and the British-Yemeni Society. In Turin and Berlin,the exhibition is sponsored by SOAS, the London Middle East Institute, the Istituto Veneto per i beni Culturali and Gingko Library.


The accompanying 240-page illustrated book, Architectural Heritage of Yemen: ‘Buildings That Fill My Eye’, was edited by Trevor H.J. Marchand and published by Gingko Library in June 2017. Series Editor is Melanie Gibson. The book is priced at £35, and for every copy sold, £5 is donated to the UNHCR Yemen Emergency Appeal.


Contributing authors: Sabina Antonini de Maigret, Gabriele vom Bruck, Deborah Dorman, Barbara Finster, Ingrid Hehmeyer, Pamela Jerome, Tom Leiermann, Ronald Lewcock, Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Nabil Al-Makaleh, Trevor Marchand, Anne Meneley, Cristina Muradore, Venetia Porter, Fahd Al-Quraishi, Renzo Ravagnan, Noha Sadek, St John Simpson, Nancy Um, Fernando Varanda, Shelagh Weir.


Follow the exhibition’s journey:
Brunei Gallery, London
Museum of Oriental Art, Turin
Pergamon Museum, Berlin

More about the Book