For days a strange tower has been growing skywards behind the thick museum walls. A four-star freezer shelf is piled upon a vegetable compartment, fridge upon fridge. Even the plinth is made of junk, chiller units, insulation and all the unnecessary innards of discarded appliances. On it there are colourful, floral-patterned mats and cuboids made from foam – so it’s the perfect spot to settle down with a bottle of cold water, a pack of cigarettes and a bag of qat. At least it is as soon as the courtyard of the National Museum is in shadow in the late afternoon.
The Open-Air Divan is the work of Thorsten Brinkmann. The tall blond man with a distinct passion for collecting came to Sanaa to create a modern monument for the country and its people – probably the first art installation in Yemen.
As he was collecting the old fridges from scrap-heaps and spares warehouses on the city’s arterial roads, Brinkmann, who was born in Stuttgart, found out that the Yemenites are masters of recycling. “I had to spend quite a lot on some of the appliances. They don’t get thrown away”, says Brinkmann. “They just turn three or four fridges into one.”
The artist, who was born in 1971, hasn’t yet sampled the bitter stimulant leaves of the qat plant that everyone here stuffs into their cheeks after lunch. “Maybe on the fridge, when the installation’s finished.” Brinkmann is delighted that the men helping him to bolt it together had already unwrapped their qat there. “Yemenites are just cool.”