Yamam Nabeel’s Waiting For Time is a poignant reflection on Londoners in lockdown
“A good story does not need to shout,” the Iraq-born and London-based artist and writer says on the opening of his new exhibition at Fitzrovia Gallery.
- Joey Levenson
- 16 September 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
London-based Iraqi writer and artist Yamam Nabeel has lived a life. Declared an enemy of the state in Iraq at only eight-months-old due to his father’s outspoken views, Yamam was exiled to Europe ahead of his fourth birthday, until his family settled in Hungary. It was at the age of 16 that he moved to the United Kingdom, what he calls his “second exile” and now-home. “I am the eternal outsider, always looking in, observing the stories of those whose stories have been muted,” he says. With a brand new exhibition at Fitzrovia Gallery in London titled Waiting For Time which centres around Londoners during the Covid-19 pandemic, Yamam is continuing his life’s work of telling the stories of those often relegated to the margins, and the space of silence.
“Photography and the visual image have always been part of my life, as photos were all we had in exile to remember our family and our homeland,” Yamam tells It’s Nice That. “As a child of a poet, writer, journalist and human-rights activist father and an academic mother, I grew up surrounded by art and culture and politics,” he says. “The amalgamation of all that made me who I am today.” From writing short stories in Hungarian and Arabic, to being a television producer, to creating NGO’s across Iraq and the world – Yamam’s photography has always been there documenting his journey every step of the way.
“I started taking photography more seriously to help my creative process but soon realised that in today’s world, digital imaging has created a parallel universe, a perceived reality that has created a diluted culture and a lack of depth behind individuality,” Yamam explains on dedicating his time to photography. “So, I picked up an analogue camera again in 2018, and I realised that I could create a truer way of telling stories through a more simple, less sensationalist way.” It’s a philosophy which bleeds into Waiting For Time, which frames all of its subjects the exact same way (centre, seated, on a London street somewhere), but presents some of them in digital and others in analogue, some in colour and others in black and white. “I never plan,” Yamam says of his process. “I don’t decide on a creative process whether it comes to writing or taking photos, the subject should have an input whether consciously or subconsciously, and I start with a simple idea and let it form into its final shape.”
Yamam’s unwavering commitment to politics and community-driven stories above all else is what lies at the heart of Waiting For Time. While the lockdown-based exhibition is a far cry from his life led creating internationally recognised projects for young people across Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and the United Kingdom, Waiting For Time is just as evocative as anything Yamam has done before. “The idea started during the initial shock of the lockdown in March 2020,” Yamam explains. “I needed a creative outlet, I needed to keep my brain working, and although many photographers were creating projects using social distancing, I needed something different, I needed something to tell a story.” Tapping in to the idea of sitting and waiting, Yamam asked participants of the project to bring a chair out into the empty London roads. “I also wanted to hear their story of the experience that was new to almost everyone,” he adds. “We were all waiting for something, but we didn’t know what.”
Atop of playing with notions of temporality and space, Waiting For Time portrays an authentically real reflection of the modern day London. Down from the figurative ivory tower of the London elite stereotype and straight to the lived streets, Yamam has beautifully captured the city as is. “Londoners are diverse, they are not one, they are not united, despite the marketing campaigns of everything from political parties to energy drinks,” he says. “Londoners are a selection of individuals and closed communities, they became my only subjects.” It was an interesting experiment for Yamam, who still feels somewhat of an outsider in the city he’s called home since the 1990’s. In seeking out the stories of his fellow Londoners, and giving them space to speak, Yamam found a unifying thread between them all. “We were all alone, yet together, in a reality none of us could have foreseen, our stories and experiences were the only thread connecting us,” he says. “I did not need to unite them, like in my previous career, I just wanted their stories and I wanted to see how the only thing that managed to unite them was a still unknown virus.”
Yamam Nabeel: The Nicest Thing That Has Come Out of This, is Making New Friends (Copyright © Yamam Nabeel, 2021)