By Tamjid Alkohali
Born on 4th October 1978 at Al-Hujr village, 20 km away from Taiz, and among 12 brothers and sisters, Nasser Al-Swadi lived in his village until he was 16 years old. During this period, he studied primary and preparatory levels. He wasn’t smart in studying, but he was a very active student in art class and in helping students to prepare teaching aids.
Since his childhood, Al-Swadi was talented in drawing, but no one cared about his talent. “My family wanted me to be a doctor, pilot or engineer. They don’t believe in art, and they think it’s an unimportant field in life,” he said.
From the beginning, Al-Swadi put his mind to the idea to leave his village, so he moved alone to Sana’a to study architecture.
Al-Swadi was depending on himself. He studied in the morning and worked as salesperson in afternoon. After he has graduated from technical teaching, he couldn’t find a job, so he worked as an art teacher in a school.
“I get a lot of benefits from teaching children art. I became more interested in drawing. Without knowing my family, I decided to improve my talent. Therefore, I went to an artist called Yasser Ghalib to learn from him drawing,” he explained.
Once, Al-Swadi heard that a French organization called DIA was looking for volunteers to teach a group of marginalized children art. He didn’t hesitate even for one minute to join the organization though many artists ignored joining, considering it a wasting time.
In the DIA organization, there was a big artistic library with a lot of books from all around the world. Al-Sawadi went to the library to read books from time to time. He felt excited to know more about art and artists from other countries, and from that moment Al-Swadi began thinking about travel abroad.
“Travel to France was almost impossible. I didn’t have money to go there and the number of applicants to the art college in France every year are about 14,000 people, and they accept only 15,” he said.
However, Al-Swadi continued dreaming of traveling to France.
In 2001, DIA announced an exhibition for artists in the organization. That was the first time for Al-Sawadi to show and sell his paintings. After that, he participated in another exhibition at the French Cultural Center in Sana’a.
Al-Sawadi enjoyed working in DIA. He decided to learn French in order to deal with them easier. He studied in Yemen about three months in which he learned the fundamentals of the French language.
The relationship between Al-Sawadi and the French people became stronger especially after he became able to speak a little French.
One day, DIA gave Al-Sawadi an invitation to go to France and study French for four months, on the condition that half of the costs were paid by DIA while the other half by Al-Sawadi.
“Without any hesitation, I sold everything I had to travel France, though most of my friends told me that I won’t benefit anything, considering my paintings would be valueless in France where real art is,” he said.
In 2004, for the first time in his life, Al-Sawadi flew to France. He lived in one of the most important schools in Marseille where he spent 24 hours inside the school with French students eating, studying, and watching French films.
“More than the language, I learned many human values. A cultural change happened in my personality significantly,” he said.
In Marseille, Al-Sawadi read more about plastic art and visited many art exhibitions. “Actually, I discovered that what I was offering wasn’t an art. Real artists offers their own art, away from tradition. Therefore, I have taken two decisions: the first to stop thinking about anything not related to art like teaching or working as salesperson, the second to stop drawing old Sana’a or any traditional view, and start to create my own style,” he added.
After four months, Al-Sawadi returned to Yemen, putting in his mind to returning to France to complete studying French. He began drawing with a different style from all the artists around him, whether in Yemen or France.
Inside a very big circle that indicates to the dome of mosque, Al-Sawadi inventoried the words inspired by everyday life about a particular political or religious issue, using all different styles of Arabic writing. In this way, Al-Sawadi paints his paintings, emphasizing that he will continue in this style while trying to improve it with new ideas.
After gathering some money, Al-Sawadi returned to France carrying his special paintings. At this time, France held the Cultural Week in Paris. It invited an artist from each county in the world. That was Al-Sawadi’s chance to participate representing his country Yemen.
Since 2008, Nasser has been moving between Yemen and France. He is the first Yemeni who showed his art works in the Bonhams auction in London.
Despite all his achievements, Al-Sawadi considers himself in the beginning of his artistic career. According to him, any artist who wants to be characterized, he or she should be cultured about life in general and art in particular.
“France made me appreciate my cultural heritage, because through it I became a distinguished artist. At the same time it made me a contemporary artist,” he said.