Yemeni artist Shatha Altowai finds creative haven in Scotland

Artist Shatha Altowai is launching an exhibition, Scratched Identities, which will explore a sensitive issue that is unsafe to discuss in her home country of Yemen.

Her exhibition, which runs from 11 October to 11 November at the Southside Community Centre in Edinburgh, will examine how Yemeni women are forced to hide their identities.

Altowai has been in Scotland since November last year. Her stay was made possible by the Artist’s Protection Fund, which protects artists living in unsafe environments and places them in countries where they can create art freely.

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“I feel very grateful to be doing art in a safe environment”, said Altowai.

The idea for the exhibition came to Altowai when she was ten, after she saw the school certificate of an older friend who had covered her face with a sticker. This was her first introduction to a common cultural practice in Yemen in which women as young as 11 are forced to hide their faces in photographs.

While most women in Scotland do not have this experience, Altowai said many Scottish women she has met have empathized with the struggles of Yemeni women, as she said: “All women face the same pressure as one another, just on different levels”. She added: “It’s powerful to have solidarity and support from one woman to another woman, even if you come from the other end of the world”.

Several MSPs have lent their support to Altowai’s project, including Labour’s Sarah Boyak and Monica Lennon.

Lennon said: “Shatha’s exhibition is a powerful visualisation of what happens when freedom is taken from women because of societal constraints. Being involved in the project has made me more determined to fight for gender equality.”

You can find more information about the exhibition and buy tickets for ‘Scratched Identities’ on Eventbrite.

A painting from Altowai's exhibit.
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