Drawing on memories: Najat Alshejni remembers Yemen through her art - GulfToday

Drawing on memories: Najat Alshejni remembers Yemen through her art

Najat Alshejni 2

Traditional architecture seen in the Yemen Nostalgia series.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Najat Alshejni is a self-taught Yemeni artist based in the UAE. Drawing inspiration from her Yemeni heritage, her artwork conveys her profound longing for the home country she left at a tender age.

Alshejni’s art reflects a deep emotional connection to the land, culture, and people of Yemen. Through vibrant colours, intricate patterns and symbolic imagery, she creates evocative and poignant compositions that echo with views of Yemen, on a visceral level.

Her artwork serves as a visual diary, capturing the essence of her memories, dreams and yearnings for a place she holds dear. Born into a diplomatic family, her early childhood was marked by what she calls a “nomadic lifestyle”.

It involved constantly moving from one place to another. Despite growing up in different regions in the world and becoming a naturalised Egyptian, she has remained connected to Yemen and her childhood memories. It fuels her artistic exploration of identity, nostalgia, and the concept of home.


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“I have always been fascinated by art in all its forms and firmly believe that it is a language that transcends all barriers and borders,” says Alshejni. “Growing up in different countries and being exposed to various arts, cultures and traditions, shaped and enriched me as a person. I admired and appreciated my father’s position as a diplomat representing Yemen around the world. I wanted to follow his footsteps by becoming a cultural ambassador for my country through my art.”

She was born in Sana’a, Yemen, and lived with her diplomatic family in Somalia, Ethiopia, Iran, Italy and Egypt. It was during her high school years in Rome, Italy, that her love and appreciation for art took firm root. But unable to pursue her passion to study art due to family reasons, she studied International Relations and obtained a B.A in Political Science with a Minor in Economics from the American University in Cairo. She had a short career in advertising and later moved across the Middle East (UAE, Lebanon, Jordan, KSA) raising her family (she is a mother of four) and supporting her husband’s career.

Najat Alshejni 1  Najat Alshejni was born in Yemen.

Meanwhile, she continued taking art classes and workshops to develop her skills and learn different techniques in various mediums such as acrylic, charcoal, oil and watercolour. She also grew her art collection along the way. Upon her return to the UAE in 2022, she decided to pursue her passion for art with a view to making it her career. In her own words, “I am an artist by heart although I didn’t study art academically. I was raised in many countries since my father was a diplomat. I lived in many countries, first with my father as Yemen’s Ambassador and later as an expat wife accompanying my husband who was a top executive in a big multinational company. I wanted to study art when I was in high school in Italy, but was not able to do so and so had to choose another major to study in University. I therefore chose the next thing that interested me, which was International Relations and Politics.”

But Art was always her passion; she loved visiting exhibitions and galleries. She collected art pieces by different artists from around the world, helped by her constant travels. As her children grew older and she finally stabilised her life, she decided to pursue her passion and realise her dream of becoming an artist by making art her profession, and not just a hobby. She exhibited her artwork the Yemen Nostalgia series at Tashkeel 2023 exhibition – a year she notes as marking the launch of her artistic career. She also joined Tashkeel as a member.

Alshejni’s artistic journey has been shaped by her diverse experiences, as well as her perspective of her homeland as an outside observer looking in. With each brushstroke and composition, she attempts to transport viewers to the landscapes, scents, and emotions of her beloved Yemen. Her art is an invitation to reflect on the universal themes of belonging, displacement and the power of art to transcend geographical boundaries. Art is the medium through which she channels her longing and affection for Yemen. She weaves a tapestry that captures the essence of her cultural roots, reflecting a deep, emotional connection to the land, culture, and people of Yemen.

As Yemen has always been a source of her inspiration, she aims to use her artworks to capture the rich culture of her homeland and her nostalgia for it. “My aim,” she says, “is to transform my canvas depicting Yemen themed series into windows introducing Yemen to the rest of the world.” She is also passionate about Palestine and has created pieces to raise awareness about the events in Gaza. She is currently exhibiting three printed artworks at ArtTalks Gallery in a group exhibition called I Wish I Were a Candle, to support Palestinian students in Egypt. ArtTalks is a Cairo-based interdisciplinary art space.

The best-known symbol of Yemeni culture, britannica.com says, is its domestic architecture, which dates back more than 2,000 years. (Some of which is reflected in Alshejni’s art). In the mountainous interior, buildings are constructed of stone blocks and bricks, both baked and sun-dried; they rise to four to six stories, with highly decorated windows and other features designed to beautify them and emphasise their height. See Alshejni’s artworks to see how she sees them through the eyes of art.

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