“I am sorry mama I couldn’t graduate from high school, but l promise I’m going to be something one day……”
This is a story of a person who started off nameless, recognised nothingness and at the end was cultivated into something beautiful.
Growing up between cultures is tough
Sharaf Alhothi was born in 1989 in Tokyo, Japan. Since then, he has been living in Tokyo for 13 years until he moved back to his home country in Yemen. The journey toward adulthood was not easy. Sharaf had spent much of his adolescence trying to fit in, but struggled. He had to manage a supreme cultural juggling “to belong without being erased” and “to hold on to those aspects of his mother culture that nourished him”.
It was a confusing and sometimes exhilarating process, choosing what to keep and what to let go.
Indeed, growing up between cultures is tough, until you realise it is a creative blessing. This type of experience provokes his human conscience and in turn translates into his innovative creation. The first series of Sharaf’s artwork photographs “Pareidolia” is exactly the sequel of his situations in life.
Where do I belong?
The situation in life has led to a situation he called it “Nameless”. That is the artist could not merge with the Japanese culture when he was in Japan and could not speak his own language when he moved back to his home country Yemen. Not only he felt nameless, but also that he was just a nobody. He does not have a sense of belonging.
Although being brought up in Japan, it didn’t make Sharaf less engaged in his own society, nor less appreciative of the opportunities for which he had to fight. Instead, he encourages himself to look for the positives in each culture. In his series “Nameless”, he began to combine both cultures that he was living in and created artworks inspired by both traditions.
“We may have been brought up differently. Our opportunities and experiences may have been different. But we make the most of what unites us and most importantly, acknowledge we’re not just one culture. We’re both.”
Then, he discovered “Nothingness”. As we have averred in this article, ultimately, we suffer because we grasp after things thinking they are fixed, substantial and real. It is only when we can see through this illusion and open ourselves, then we can relax into clarity, compassion and courage. Indeed, belonging without being erased is a challenge for Sharaf. Instead of dwelling himself in the state of namelessness, he turns it into a virtue.
Interestingly, the series of photographs “Nothingness” is not for sale. They are special and unique to Sharaf as they represent the deepest part of his soul. However, you can collect his other series of artwork here.
The View of Integration
After the series “Nameless”, Sharaf integrated more of his views on both cultures and customs which have been nourishing him since his childhood. This has prompted the birth of the latest series of work “Cultivated”.
He chose to look closer at the traditionally Yemeni sitara veils, compare and contrast with the Japanese silk. While Sharaf found sitara to be unique, colourful and distinctive, Japanese silk is wonderfully strong, light and soft. By employing his unique technique based on his art movement called pareidolia, “Cultivated (2020)” brings out not only the specialty of both cultures, but also the advancement of his technique. In fact, at a closer glance, some of the traditionally Yemeni veils are like works of art.
Rising Sun vs The Silk Road
Sharaf regards his experience in two stages. First, he named it as the Japanese national flag “Rising Sun” which represents his time in Japan. Second, he named it as “The Silk Road” which is one of the elements of Yemeni common heritage. Here is another photographer who unveil the silk road with his camera lens!
Of all the fabrics, silk is regarded as the finest and most beautiful. It has a wonderful sheen. The result of triangle-shaped fibres that reflect light like prisms and layers of protein that build up to a pearly sheen. It can be dyed a host of wonderful colours. Similarly, the Yemeni sitara is also a brightly coloured squared-shaped cloth wrapped around the body and is one of the most popular pieces of clothing in all of Yemen.
Knowledge and appreciation of these subjects helps to preserve, diffuse, and promote elements of both cultures. Perhaps this is the biggest contribution of every great artist of all time. Thanks to the exchanges along the Silk Roads, over centuries, Yemen has retained its importance as one of the most influential commercial and cultural centres in the Arab world and beyond.
He is both cultures together
To conclude, growing up straddling two different cultures is not always easy. Sharaf is one of the rarest persons who is distinguished in all aspects of life. His beauty lies in his persistence and go getter mentality. Growing up between cultures could be confusing, but Sharaf connotes that, he is not just one of them, he is both the cultures together.
One hopes that the majority are not forgotten, the ones who are just getting on with life, loving, living, contributing, still aspiring, still here. As his mother put it, “I will always and forever believe in my son.” What an inspiring journey.