“BOMB ANYTHING THAT BLOOMS” by Amira Al-Sharif, written in collaboration with Elle Kurancid.

1 – 10 November 2019

Introduction:  “BOMB ANYTHING THAT BLOOMS” 

By Amira Al-Sharif, written in collaboration with Elle Kurancid.

In early March 2015, for the occasion of International Women’s Day, I traveled from my home in Sana’a, Yemen, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. On this self-directed research trip, I became acquainted with the bloody legacies of the Cambodian Civil War and the Vietnam War — in particular, with one of the U.S. military’s most morbid rules of engagement, “kill anything that moves.” Today, the foreshadowing feels insufferable: I didn’t know that a few weeks later there would be a genocidal war waged against my own country, too, when the western-supported Saudi-led coalition first unleashed its criminal bombing campaign on Yemeni civilians young and old. Some now call my beloved Yemen “Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam.” 

The burning body and screaming face of nine-year-old Kim Phuc, the Vietnam War survivor who fled planes spraying napalm in the iconic 1972 image, seared through my mind when I first saw the emaciated body and silent face of seven-year-old Yemeni Amal Hussain on the front page of the New York Times back in October 2018.

Amal, I thought, must represent the suffering to end all war-related suffering in Yemen. In the days that followed, the young girl’s harrowing portrait went viral as she succumbed to severe acute malnutrition (which, according to Save the Children, is a fate shared by some 85,000 Yemenis under the age of five since the start of the war.) By late November, the Times correspondent who had authored the story on Amal, penned a self-critical follow-up dispatch on his “clinical detachment” from the bedridden Yemenis with “stick-like limbs and flaccid skin,” from the likes of Amal.

What if people everywhere could see themselves, I thought, their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers, their wives and husbands, their daughters and sons, their friends and neighbors in us, in Yemenis?

What if Amal’s legacy could transcend one of a western journalist’s ‘clinical detachment,’ rather speaking to the life and love that she was robbed of by the warring parties?

Accordingly, in my ongoing series “Bomb Anything That Blooms” — a painful, personal play on “kill anything that moves” — you’ll see a proud father holding his daughter’s wedding bouquet, a sunset-lit woman calming a horse along the Red Sea’s shoreline, rows of wide-eyed schoolchildren sitting at their desks, and the smiling face of a farmer who’s perched atop his mango tree. Tender attachment replaces clinical detachment. Regardless of one’s context of war or peace, all human beings experience the blooming process: we grow, we learn, we live. Amal Hussain was robbed of her blooming, and anyone in Yemen could be next.

 

2015년 3월 초, 세계여성의 날을 맞이해 나는 내 집인 예멘 사나에서 캄보디아 프놈펜으로 여행을 떠났다. 주도적 연구 차원으로 떠난 이 여행에서 나는 피로 얼룩진 캄보디아 내전과 베트남 전쟁에 대해 알게 되었다. 특히 미국군의 “움직이는 것은 다 쏴라”는 소름 끼치는 명령이 있었던 전투를. 지금 생각해보면 그것은 견딜 수 없는 전조였다. 불과 몇 주 안에 내 조국에서도 학살 수준의 전쟁이 발발할지 알지 못했기 때문이다. 서방 국가의 원조를 받은 사우디아라비아 연립정부는 예멘의 노인과 아이들을 향해 폭격을 날렸다. 누군가는 내가 사랑하는 예멘을 “사우디아라비아의 베트남”이라고 부른다.

2018년 10월 뉴욕타임스지 제1면에 나온 수척하고 조용한 7살의 예멘인, 아마르 후세인을 처음 봤을 때, 대표적인 1972년 모습으로 비행기를 조종하고 네이팜탄을 뿌렸던 9살 베트남 전쟁 생존자, 킴 퍽의 타오르는 몸과 소리 지르는 얼굴이 내 머릿속으로 물밀었다. 나는 아마르가 예멘의 모든 전쟁과 관련된 비극을 종결짓도록 대표해야 한다고 생각했다. 이후 며칠간 심각한 영양실조에 걸린 소녀의 참옥한 환경이 세계적으로 알려졌다. 당시 영양실조는 전쟁 시작 이래 수십 만 명의 예멘 아이들이 충분히 피할 수 있는 운명이었다. 

11월 말, 아마르 기사를 기고했던 타임스지 특파원은 침실 생활하는 예멘인의 ‘열악한 위생’과 아마르와 같은 아이들의 ‘가느다란 갈비뼈와 늘어지는 피부’에 대해 후속 기사를 냈다. 모든 사람들이 우리한테, 예멘 사람들한테서 어머니, 아버지, 형제, 자매, 부인, 남편, 아들, 딸, 친구, 이웃을 볼 수 있다면 어땠을까? ‘사람들이 가난을 돌아보게 만든 예멘 소녀’인 아마르의 이야기가 해외 특파원이 주장하는 ‘열악한 위생’에서 그치지 않고, 전쟁을 일으킨 세력에 의해 빼앗긴 피어나는 시기를 알렸다면 어땠을까?

따라서 계속 추가되는 나의 “피어나는 것은 다 터뜨려라” 시리즈에서는 딸의 웨딩 부케를 들고 있는 자랑스러운 아버지, 노을진 홍해를 뒤로하고 말을 진정시키는 여성, 망고나무 위에 만족스러운 얼굴로 앉아있는 농부, 교실에서 눈을 반짝이며 앉아있는 학생들의 모습을 볼 수 있다. 열악한 위생 환경 대신 다정한 관계를 담았다. 전쟁과 평화와 상관없이, 사람은 누구나 피어나는 시기가 있다. 우리는 배우고, 삶을 살아가고, 사랑한다. 아마르 후세인은 그 시기를 빼앗겼고, 예멘의 누구도 다음 대상이 될 수 있다.

About the Artist:  Amira Al-Sharif is a dedicated, impassioned Yemeni photographer in her mid-thirties. With over sixteen years of experience working across Yemen, where the majority of photographers are male, she continues to push cultural and societal boundaries while covering the war-torn and crisis-ravaged areas of her beloved
motherland. She fervently believes that the world and her people have the right to free, nuanced, and reliable information upon which to construct their lives, upon which to bloom.

Amira is a voice for the women of Yemen and has captured intimate visual stories at the frontlines of the war, famine, and disease affected cities and countryside. She has put her life at risk by traveling through both Houthi rebel and government checkpoints to photograph the perseverance — the fighting spirits — of Yemeni women young and old, illustrating how the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” has afflicted them. This has involved great determination in acquiring the paperwork to satisfy both sides of the conflict.

“Our women are bearing the brunt of the situation in Yemen,” she says. “They still have to feed, clothe, and care for their families. I use my journalistic skills and artistic vision to celebrate and honor these women, not stereotype and victimize them.” In 2010, Amira received a diploma in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism from New York’s International Center of Photography. After studying for twelve months she returned to Yemen, where she taught visual storytelling to hundreds of young aspiring photographers. Four years later, she
participated in the first cycle of the Magnum-affiliated Arab Documentary Photography Program. Her project, “A Love Song to Socotra Island,” grew from a search for pioneering Yemeni women who are making their own way in life while
confronting the traditions and customs of a male-dominated society. Just like her ongoing, decade-long series, “Yemeni Women with Fighting Spirits,” this work pays tribute to the pivotal roles and powerful insights of mothers, daughters, and sisters in the midst of unrelenting struggle.

Amira received a mentorship with Women Photograph in 2017, followed in 2019 by a
fellowship with the World Press Photo Foundation’s 6×6 Global Talent Program. Her
work has been exhibited in festivals, galleries, and cultural centers across Europe and
the MENA region, as well as in the United States, India, Cambodia, and South Korea.
She has worked on photo assignments for UNHCR, UNICEF, and Oxfam. Her
independent series have recently appeared in National Geographic, The Guardian,
The Washington Post, and World Press Photo’s Witness magazine. At present, she is
an artist-in-residence at the Cité internationale des arts in Paris.