Imagine being forbidden, proscribed by religious law. Haram.
Yemeni artist Ahlam Jarban says that she felt that her very existence as a girl and a woman growing up in her country was forbidden. Now imagine being a female graffiti writer in that war-torn country, eager for your work and your ideas to be seen and considered.
“To be a woman in Yemen is forbidden (haram),” she says. “Street art was my way in Yemen to say ‘I’m not haram; I’m proud of being a woman.’ ”
Her new mural was created in collaboration with the Agency of Artists in Exile (Atelier des Artistes en Exil), where she is an artist in residence. Using aerosol and stencils, she draws attention to this denial of personal agency in the world through patterned calligraphy of “Haram” interrupted by the occasional pair of photorealistic eyes, always watching.
Part of an exhibition along a 50-meter long wall at the Pavillon Carré de Baudouin in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, the artist is actively assessing and critiquing the patriarchal behaviors she witnessed during her youth before arriving here in 2018. She is also making connections between the two cultures.
“I painted eyes because I think that was the only thing that was free on a woman’s body,” she says as she describes the various emotions and intentions that are communicated by people purely with their eyes. Immediately she pivots to the correlation to life in her new European home where everyone is encouraged to wear a mask during the Covid-19 pandemic, and people are learning to rely more on communicating with their eyes, perhaps more than ever before.
“I think this mural can be very interesting for the Arabic French people and for the French people to know more about how it can be to be a female in Yemen,” she says in the video below.