Images of Yemen's secret society revealed in exhibition

Posted by Helen Scott

A Yemeni photojournalist, trained by Thomson Foundation, produced work that even experienced photographers from the Middle East had not seen before. An exhibition of her work has been held in Cardiff, Wales.

Eman Al Awami’s imagery – under the theme 'Secret Society' – shows women gathering at weekends, usually taking it in turns to host these events between them, and taking part in rituals that promote relaxation. 

Incense, the occasional chewing of khat (an amphetamine-like stimulant) and smoking are often featured in the activities, and on special occasions there may be music performed by women-only bands.

The meetings also involve rich debates that revolve around various topics from philosophy, to religion, politics, science, and even the latest in books and film releases. 

This has opened our eyes to a subject not often seen.

Glenn Edwards, Thomson Foundation photojournalism trainer

Speaking of her access to this group, Eman said: “In a conservative society like Yemen, where there are no luxuries of parks and safe spaces amidst the sufferings of war and siege, women have created a world of their own, where they forget the worries and problems of life and the daily pain of war. This world allows a breath towards adapting to everyday pressures, whether as a working woman, a mother or both.

"These sessions are much more than just gatherings. They are almost collective therapy sessions, or academic conferences and lectures. They also promote support and comfort through their ability to build deep knowledge and strong relationships between new friends”.



Thomson Foundation trainer, Glenn Edwards, put forward Eman's work for the annual Made in Roath Festival after holding photojournalism workshops in Lebanon's capital city, Beirut, with emerging photographers from Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Palestine. The training was provided by Thomson Foundation in partnership with the British Council and Dar al Mussawir.



Eman's images were exhibited at the Cloud Shisha Bar in Cardiff.

“The reaction has been very positive with many questions asked about the work,” said Glenn.

The photographic work of all participants involved in the training, held in Beirut earlier this year, is also being shown as a digital exhibition at The Eye International Photography Festival in Aberystwyth, Wales.



From street photography to portraiture, vernacular images to documentary reportage, there has been a lot to admire from all of the photographers. Their work reflecting the realities of the Middle East through the camera lens, was also part of a 'Looking for the Truth' photography exhibition in Beirut, Lebanon, over the summer months.



The exhibition ran in Dar El Nimer for Arts and Culture in Beirut, Lebanon, and at Dar Al Mussawir.

See some of the exhibited images and details on the photographers here.


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Helen Scott

Helen Scott

Editorial Associate

About: Helen is an experienced trainer, consultant and project manager with a background in programme making and management. She led the five year media capacity building project in Sudan.

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