Category Archives: Photographing Yemen

An Iraqi Heart in Yemen

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Qalb al-Yaman (The Heart of Yemen) is a book published in 1947 in Baghdad by the Iraqi military advisor Muḥammad Ḥasan. This is a fascinating account of Yemen about an Iraqi Military Mission to Yemen in 1940-1943 with details on Yemen at that time under the rule of Imām Yaḥyā.  It is now available for reading online and downloadable.

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first page of the author’s text

The text consists of 256 pages with a detailed table of contents, illustrations and a large map. The major chapters deal with Yemen’s geography and resources, history, the author’s travel experience to Yemen, the capital Ṣan‘ā’, Imām Yaḥyā, social life, major routes, local medicine, the government and soldiers, social and regional groups, women, marriage customs, festivals and greeting behavior, Yemenite Jews, the Iraqi advisors in Yemen, diplomatic relations and correspondence, Islamic sects, and his return to Iraq. There are numerous photographs, which unfortunately did not reproduce well in the publication.

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photograph of Imām Yaḥyā (who did not want his image copied as noted in the bottom left)

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beheading of soldier overseen by Sayf al-Islām Ibrāhīm

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one of the earliest photographs of Yemeni bara‘

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respective genealogies of Iraqī King Faysal and Yemeni Imām Yaḥyā

Yemeni Arts on al-Madaniya

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Despite the turmoil and suffering in Yemen, a number of Yemeni artists are continuing to write, draw, photograph and film. One of the more exciting online resources for this is the website al-madaniya, published in English and Arabic.  Current posts include an article on Muhammad Mahmud al-Zubayri, Art in prehistoric Yemen, Yemeni songs, the poets ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Muqalih and ‘Abd Allah al-Baradduni, several short stories and much more. All the articles are published in Arabic and English, so they are also suitable for anyone interested in learning Arabic.

As note in the “About” section…

al-Madaniya magazine is a platform for Yemeni art, culture and civil society. It aims to highlight and nurture Yemeni art, culture and civil society initiatives through contributions from emerging and established writers, photographers and creatives

The magazine aims to impact the way Yemenis view their own society by providing a space for its cultural, intellectual and artistic productions, and by highlighting initiatives bridging social divisions. By presenting all contributions in both Arabic and English language, the magazine allows the international reader to explore an undiscovered side to Yemen, which differs from images of Yemen created in mainstream media

al-Madaniya magazine is a project implemented by the Yemen Polling Center and made possible by the generous funding of the German Institute of Foreign Affairs.  Yemeni artist Ibi Ibrahim has been commissioned to lead the project and serve as the Editor in Chief.

Noha Sadek on AIYS

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Noha Sadek in AIYS office in Bayt al-Sammān, December 1997

Since I landed in Sanaa for the first time on a brisk early morning with Ed Keall and four other members of the Canadian Mission of the Royal Ontario Museum in Zabīd, Yemen became the main focus of my research and AIYS played an important role in providing a reassuring base, administrative support as well as contacts with fellow researchers. Located near the Tourism office on Taḥrīr Square, AIYS in 1982 was a small house whose director, Leigh Douglas, gave us spartan but reassuring headquarters. Gazing then at AIYS’s colourful qamariyas, I had little inkling that I would return to Yemen three years later for my Ph.D. thesis research on Rasulid architecture.

Thus, I deemed myself lucky to have been awarded the AIYS doctoral fellowship for 1985-86. I shrugged off objections voiced over the fellowship being given to a Canadian, and I spent most of my six-month research period in Ta‘izz studying its magnificent Rasulid monuments. By then, AIYS had moved to a house on 26 September street but I did not reside there during my trips to Sanaa as I lived in Selma Al-Radi’s house in ḥārat al-ʿAjamī, an alley named after the family that owned most of the buildings in it, and whose major landmark was the French Centre for Yemeni Studies (CFEY). I subsequently returned to Yemen to continue work on Zabīd with the CAMROM, and with the help of local historian ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ḥaḍramī I succeeded in mapping the town’s 86 mosques. Our common interest in Yemeni architecture made Selma and I decide to embark on a survey of Yemen’s painted mosques, for which we received an AIYS grant in 1993 that allowed us to hire a car and a driver that made travel to remote mountainous regions, where several of these incredible buildings were located, a lot easier.

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Noha Sadek on the mosque trail in Zabid (Photo by Ed Keall)

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Nathalie Peutz on AIYS

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Nathalie Peutz in Homhil, Soqotra (2003, AIYS fellowship)

It was during my first summer in Yemen as a novice Arabic student at the Yemen Language Center (YLC) in 1999 that I discovered the American Institute for Yemeni Studies and all that it had to offer. Conversations with prominent scholars based at or passing through YLC and a fortuitous meeting with AIYS resident director Marta Colburn led to my applying for a NMERTA/AIYS language fellowship for the following summer and, over time, to a fulfilling career that I owe entirely to Yemen and the repeated forms of AIYS support that helped launch it. Looking back, it is difficult for me to imagine how I would have navigated my anthropological research in Yemen or my academic career without the financial, material, logistical, and social support in addition to the physical base that AIYS provided.

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Justin Stearns on the roof of the AIYS hostel on al-Bawniya Street (2003)

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Ghosts of Hodeidah

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by Lily V. Filson

In the summer of 2005, I arrived in a Yemeni coastal port on a road trip that had brought us from the lofty tower-palaces of Sana’a, capital of Arabia Felix for the Romans, down to the Tihama plain on the Red Sea. Apart from this narrow sea, little separates Tihama from East Africa, but much more than mountains separates Tihama from Sana’a. The air got exponentially hotter and saltier, and the landscape flattened into an arid brown. Our destination was Al-Hodeidah, also seen as Hudaydah, in the Latin alphabet’s perpetual attempts to nail down those mutable Arabic vowels. Translated, it becomes “the iron,” a metal charged with magic and miracles in the long memory of Arab lore, and one which has recently been through the fire of a brutal war.

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But back to 2005: as a foreign girl, the fisherman were enthusiastic to show me everything; some I could identify, others had melted into slime. Most impressive for everyone there were the long masses of shark corpses rolled together like so many unsettling logs. Yemeni machismo won the day, and with great flourishes, a row of teeth was sawed out of one’s mouth, tied up in plastic, and ceremoniously presented. Those teeth travelled around the length of almost all of Yemen on that trip, and five years later, I was in Florence, Italy, where a graduate program was letting my creativity flourish in unexpected ways. I was exploring jewelry design, and the shark teeth which had been my gift in Hodeidah now occupied a small velvet pouch, and they became the stuff of a dream I sketched in silver that quickly took shape at a bench in a workshop in the Oltrarno. In another life in 2013 across the world again, they walked the runway as part of the inaugural New Orleans Fashion Week; those few teeth were destined for a very different life, but their ultimate connection to Al-Hodeidah on Yemen’s Red Sea coast invests them now with a gravity beyond the passing their flashing moments of past glamor.

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Yemenis in 1873

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It is rare to find photographs of Yemenis in the 19th century, especially ordinary people and not members of the elite. A series of photographs were taken of individuals within the Ottoman Empire for a book entitled Les Costumes Populaires de la Turquie en 1873. This was compiled for the Turkish Imperial Commission for the Universal Exposition in Vienna. The book is available as a pdf at archive.org.

While only four individuals are identified as Yemeni, there are many other people across the empire in the photographs.  The two photographs here, each with three individuals, are presented below, followed by the description of each in French.

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left to right: Scholar in al-Ḥudayda (#1), woman of Ṣan‘ā’ (#3)
middle-class man of al-Ḥudayda (#2)

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