Preserving Yemen's Decades-Old Cultural Magazines
Challenges in creating an archive for Yemen's history.
“It was like finding a buried treasure,” he said in awe. Sadiq Al-Harasi, Project Manager, described delicately flipping through the frail pages of magazines from the 1940s in Yemen. “There are articles featuring popular Yemeni female artists discussing their struggles in the ‘80s,” he recounts. He spent months in the basement of the National Library of Yemen in Sana’a, carefully scanning the pages of 1,070 magazines.
The magazines are faded and deteriorating. What is the point of standing by while they wither away?
A grant from the Prince Claus Foundation in 2020 made it possible for the Romooz Foundation to pursue its vision of preserving Yemeni cultural magazines and making them accessible. Romooz, a registered Yemeni non-profit founded in 2018, focuses on the arts, literature, and the preservation of culture for Yemen.
Some will argue that the arts are unnecessary when people are dying of starvation, illness, and war. Artists in Yemen would argue that art is their lifeline. It’s part of their history, their present, and their future. Yemeni artists capture the tragedies and hopes of the Yemeni struggle and share them with the world. Instead of the world guessing what is going on in Yemen, there are artists who can more poignantly express through articles, photos, film, music, and other mediums the Yemeni experience.
The power of knowing about your past as a society is priceless. It is a source of hope when you flip through those magazines from decades ago, brimming with the artists of the day. Be it theatre, screenplays, poems, stories, or pictures. It reminds people at war what life once was. What they were once capable of and what they can do once more.
As the Yemeni diaspora becomes multiple generations out, some lose touch with their language, some have a more challenging time visiting, and making these works accessible becomes increasingly essential. The first step was to scan them. Now, funding has run out, and it needs to get posted online. Once that happens, getting the information translated will be essential to making it accessible for generations to come.
This undertaking can also pave the way for other libraries in Yemen to follow suit to preserve its history.
What you can do to help
Romooz Foundation is seeking grants to continue this work. If you or your organization is interested, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow them on Instagram ( @romoozfoundation) and share their work.
About Romooz Foundation
The Romooz Foundation was established in 2018 by Ibi Ibrahim. Romooz is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting emerging Art and Literature in Yemen. It runs multiple programs that promote the arts. There is Kitabat, which is dedicated to supporting the creative writing scene in Yemen. Phone Art Yemen is a program that promotes the use of mobile phones as a contemporary medium. They have conducted many projects over the years, see their website for more information.
Ibi Ibrahim is a visual artist, writer, filmmaker, and musician. His work is often inspired by his immediate surroundings, with an artistic practice that has steadily evolved to reflect his personal experiences and life stages over the past decade. His work is part of a number of public collections including the British Museum, Colorado College, Barjeel Art Foundation, and Durham University Museum. He has been part of numerous art residencies including the Arab American National Museum (Dearborn), Soma Art Space (Berlin), Beirut Art Residency (Beirut), Cites Internationale des Arts (Paris).
Sadiq Al-Harasi, is a Sana’a-based culture administrator. He holds a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering. Sadiq is also a visual artist, writer, and freelance production manager. His literary works have been published within “Conflict: the new literature in Yemen” and “A hundred texts for a hundred writer” and his artworks “Photo-essay: The Restaurants Street” for Al-Madanya Magazine. He is interested in cultural heritage and Yemeni folklore and shows it in his artworks. He also focuses on Memory, Identity, and Belonging in his experimental artworks. Currently, he is CEO of Yemen Art Base, and works as a projects associate at Romooz Foundation. He has coordinated several cultural projects, workshops, and exhibitions.