Art out of genocide

January 21, 2020

From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters

Dearborn, Mich.—In the face of genocidal war and famine, the arts survive. In November the Arab-American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich., hosted the 13th Annual Arab-American book awards along with a multimedia exhibit: “Stories Never Told: Yemen’s Crises and Renaisssance.”

From the Stories Never Told booklet: “In spite of the dire situation in Yemen, the resilience and perseverance of the Yemeni people is stronger than ever…the voices of the people are being heard, echoing the beauty of the country, the complexity of their culture and the depth of their suffering.

“Yemeni poets, filmmakers, activists, bloggers, visual artists and hundreds of others are speaking truth to power through their art.”

Awards went to books that explored human relationships across boundaries of geography, age, gender and race. Amreekiya, by Lena Mahmoud, is the story of a young woman from Lebanon in an arranged marriage. As Good as True, by Cheryl Reid, is based on her Syrian great-grandparents’ experiences in the early 20th century immigrating to a Mississippi town.

The Sound of Listening, by Philip Mestres, explores poetry from several languages; and Syrian and Lebanese Patricios in Sao Paulo, by Oswaldo Truzzi, takes up their immigrant experience.

Of 24 artists, 10 are filmmakers, five of whom were supported by Comra Films, foundation for filmmaking in war-torn Sana’a, Yemen. Broken Paths, an award-winning film, depicts the horrible things people do when they allow external forces to shape their perspectives. A Pill portrays a mother of four who has fled to Aden, but cannot obtain medicine for her life-threatening heart condition.

Artist Saba Jallas draws images that symbolize hope and peace within chaos, by transforming images of smoke in photographs of bombings. In one, the smoke has become a mother rescuing her child.

For the schedule of the traveling exhibit Stories Never Told, contact the curator, Hanan Alia Yahya, at or facebook/info.storiesnevertold.   

—Susan Van Gelder

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