Before We Were Banned: Interview with Asiyah Alsharabi

Asiyah Alsharabi. Photo by Jack Newton.

Asiyah Alsharabi. Photo by Jack Newton.

What does home mean to you?

It's a place where my voice is heard, without being intimidated; where I feel safe with my family. Home is not a house for me or a country, it's much much deeper than that.

Where are you a local?

In the State Of Virginia.

Please describe the journey (emotional and/or physical) behind your work. As wars have intensified in our home countries and the immigration system tightens in the US, what/who was the source of strength in your creative process?

In my “Trumperie” series I was inspired by Trump. When I first heard that nationals from the seven countries would be banned, my heart started aching, and all I could think of was my children. I planned for them to be raised in the USA and all the sudden I felt that will be taking away from them. First thing I thought was that I am an immigrant, and this country is built by and will stay strong because of immigrants. So I did a self-portrait in my traditional clothes, as I was taking the portraits I was thinking of Yemen, where the war is tearing it apart; where people are hopeless and desperate, and it doesn’t matter how smart, how talented, or even how qualified educationally—all of them were banned with no exception.

Did BWWB allow you to voice your narrative in an authentic way?

BWWB is a great idea to express your voice and show your art. The show tracked a lot of people and to my pleasant surprise most of the attendance were Americans not necessarily from the 7 banned countries.

How did the event go and how did it feel to show your work?

Being in NY exhibiting your work is a different experience. I felt the people attended BWWB enjoyed being there, and the energy in the show was uplifting.

What was the most meaningful comment you received or heard? And why?

A journalist,“ Landon Shroder” from RVA Mag commented, “Asiya Al-Sharabi has touched one of those raw nerves that has come to define what an entire generation of people are feeling, regardless of what country they come from." Also, a young artist said, “I can’t afford to purchase your work at this time, but I wish I can hang it in our living room and look at it for one day." I was touched by those comments because I feel my art also speaks to the younger generation, to the future leaders of this country, and leaders of other countries as well.

Did this event change the way you think about your identity? If so, how so?


Being an artist from the BWWB regions in the US can feel inherently politicised. Does this dynamic apply in your ‘home nation’? Do you hope to show your art in your home country/country of origin, or can it only exist outside of that space?

I think the topic dictates where it should be exhibited. If it is a political we are lucky to exhibit it in the USA where you are free, safe, and your art is also appreciated. In my home country as well as many others, you’re encouraged to exhibit but political & none religious artwork is not allowed.

How did your art fit in with the larger themes of the exhibition? In your own words, what were those themes (both yours and the exhibition’s)?

The diversity in the exhibition worked to my advantage, so the showed videos, books, paintings, photograph, and mixed media, all of that fit perfectly into the puzzle, and the attendees were excited because of the strength and the diversity it represented.

How do these myths strain our communities?

All the above should not be blocked from entering this country.

Time seems to be a central concept in the exhibit. Those in power abuse immigrants at their own leisure and based on their own inadequacies. The time of immigrants in the US is disposable. Did BWWB serve as a space for artists to reclaim that time (time spent separated from family, time spent worrying, and time in limbo)?

In any challenge in life, you have to take the first step, and many more to follow. BWWB is a step in the right direction. Much more work needs to be done to lift this ban.

Was BWWB a space for healing for immigrants under Trump’s administration? Can you imagine other similar spaces? How can we strengthen our sense of community and solidarity?

Definitely. The impact of the exhibition will encourage others to do a follow up for sure because the show was received positively in the art scene and in the Media. By doing the right thing, and allowing people from the banned countries to enter the US, they have amazing gifted people and talents, they should be allowed in the US. Bad people are in every country and every culture.

Asiya Alsharabi is a Yemeni artist. She started as a journalist photographer then shifted to the art scene detailed and descriptive. As a middle Eastern female artist, she faced many challenges during her career as a photographer, but she has also turned her lens to art photography in an effort to capture the energy and personality of Arab women who are, through cultural strictures, not allowed to be photographed. She uses a self developed technique that expresses and focuses not only on aesthetics, but also on the underlying struggles of women surrounded the world. Her work questions the effect of culture and religion on female identity. Her work is exhibited widely both nationally and internationally.

In 2013 she moved to the USA because of the current war in her country Yemen. While waiting to go back home, she is now exhibiting her work at Art Works Gallery in Richmond. Lately during a workshop at “Anderson Ranch Art Center” Colorado, she developed a series combining a digital and handmade technique, and was selected as the first Yemeni artist to participate in their residency program in 2016.