Jameel Ghanem Institute of Fine Arts: Brief History and Future Prospects

The Jameel Ghanem Institute of Fine Arts is considered the first institute of its kind in Aden, but also in Yemen. Today, the institute continues to have a positive influence on those striving to make art in Aden and in other Yemeni cities. Over the course of its history, the founders contributed to raising the importance of art in Yemeni society and in spreading awareness of it among successive generations.

History of the institute

Following his return from his studies at the Higher Institute of Arabic Music in Egypt, musician Ahmed bin Ahmed Qassem (D. 1993) worked towards laying the foundation for the first fine arts institute in Yemen. His aim in founding an institute was to teach Yemeni musicians and students the principles of music and the related fields of theory and practice, so that they could build their compositions of music native to Yemen on an organized professional foundation.

From here, the main objective of the founders was to work on building the literacy of talented musicians who were playing music by ear, without theoretical or practical knowledge of the principles of music and its branches and divergences, overlaps and distinctions. This idea received support from the state in the 1970s; in particular, from the late Minister of Culture, Abdullah Abdul Razzaq Ba Deeb (d. 1976), who supported the idea, which fell in line with the government’s policy of establishing institutional structures in the post-colonial state. The institute was officially opened in 1973, with the inauguration of the musical studies program. The institute was headed by the musician Jameel Ghanem (d.1990), following his return from Iraq where he was completing his musical studies.

 Photo Courtesy of Ahmed Shihab al-Qadi

Photo Courtesy of Ahmed Shihab al-Qadi

In 1974, the Fine Arts Department was inaugurated. The opening of the department was possible thanks to the Egyptian artist Khaled Abdulaziz Darwish, who at the time was an advisor at the institute. The institute extended its activities to include theatre, and introduced theatre and performance courses. Therefore, within one year, the academic program of the institute included music, fine arts and theatre.

The courses at the institute were organized under an open informal structure, with some evening courses offered. In the evening, musicians, artists and playwrights continued to flow steadily through the institute. In 1976, Mr. Ahmed Saleh bin Gawdel was appointed head of the institute, after Jameel Ghanem moved to the United Arab Emirates. Following the departure of Jameel Ghanem, the first leader of the institute, the institute was named in his honor, in recognition of his historic role in the founding of the institute, as well as its development and outstanding management.

In 1979, the government announced it would replace the open structure at the institute with a systematic one. In the same year, the first department offering secondary musical studies and music was opened, offering students the possibility to graduate following their music and art study programs. In 1980, the theater department was opened; and with this, the institute, as it is today, completed its three main departments.

Fine arts prevail

Despite the violence of the war that was waged on Aden in 2015 and the subsequent tragic effects, the director of the institute, along with some of the staff, resumed work. Even with the challenges that accompanied the team, three students graduated from the theater department. Determined to contribute to post-war normalization, the institute decided to present the students’ theatrical works to the public. The plays took the forms of a monodrama or solo sound, and were based on the novels of the late Abdullah Salem Ba Wazir (d.2004).

 Photo Courtesy of Ahmed Shihab al-Qadi

Photo Courtesy of Ahmed Shihab al-Qadi

As the whole city suffered from the situation following the war, art and its beautiful institutes were not spared. Many of those who oppose art tried to undermine the institute and its long standing work under ideological justifications that see art as a sin and a waste of time.

The current director of the institute, Abdul Salam Amer, was among the first graduates from the theater department at the institute in 1984. Speaking to al-Madaniya, he said: “Art prevailed in Aden, firstly because there is an institute of arts, and secondly because of the presence of a staff that believes in art, and in the importance of returning to work to support talented musicians. Despite my belief that an artist remains an artist, I accepted the offer to join the institute as a manager, to promote it again, knowing that it has been marginalized since 1994. Through art, the institute faces extremism and excessiveness, and now it is resuming its activity, offering short courses at a symbolic cost. As of lately, we received basic support from the governor Aydarous al-Zubaidi, and the Minister of Finance agreed to adopt an operational budget for the institute for the first time since 1994.”

The legacy of the institute

Many influential pioneers of theatre, music and fine arts graduated from the institute. Among those are the members of the band Youth of Aden, and many others who attended courses, including young professional musicians, both male and female. Today they tour cultural forums in Aden and other cities, they perform music at various events and occasions, and bring hope and joy to their audience.

 Photo Courtesy of Ahmed Shihab al-Qadi

Photo Courtesy of Ahmed Shihab al-Qadi

What’s new at the institute?

The institute plans to return to systematic courses, in addition to offering evening sessions; it will also provide financial incentives to outstanding students. One of the main accomplishments is that the Minister of Culture signed a memorandum of understanding with the Academy of Arts in Egypt which, once it becomes an agreement, will provide the institute with high-level academic cadres. This collaboration will also include an exchange between some of the teachers of the institute, who will travel to Egypt and receive higher training courses at the academy there. In addition, there is a plan to open a new department of Folk Art.

For 2018, there are plans to renovate the institute and build a summer theater, and to expand the capacity of the institute, with four new classrooms and a fully equipped radio and sound studio for recording and radio broadcasting.

Al-Madaniya magazine promises its readers to continue promoting the work of the Jameel Ghanem Institute in 2018, through a short film that documents the renovation and the expansion of the institute’s capacity.