Yemen is known as a country of war and ongoing conflict, but many do not know about another aspect of Yemen. From this phrase, “Yemen used to be and not much changed,” begins the journey of living in beautiful detail where in Yemen in the past, varied between culture, arts, customs, and diverse popular traditions…
“Yemen Used to Be” is an online art platform on social media, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. It aims to correct the stereotype about Yemen. It was founded by young Yemeni Ahmed Al-Hagri, a filmmaker who studies electronic media in Malaysia.
“Yemen has a wrong stereotype because of the circumstances of the war, as most search engines are negative for Yemen. It's the same in social councils, but we think we can share a lot of beauty with others,” says Al-Hagri.
The idea began with a short film by Ahmed Al-Hagri at his university in Malaysia, which in turn was the spark for launching the platform:
“It was in a short film that I produced and exhibited at a cultural festival held at my university, I was surprised at the reactions of people, some of whom cried, and some of them were affected, then it was the beginning of doing something bigger than a short film, the ideas were many, but in the end was the idea of establishing a platform specialized in archiving history and ancient Yemeni heritage,”
Al-Hagri began to form a team through a post on his Instagram account, a group of young people interacted with the topic from several countries such as Malaysia, Yemen, The Netherlands, UAE, Qatar, and Egypt to form a team of 15, and the tasks are divided into several sections as a team of sources, writing group, translation team, editing team, design, and drawing to launch the platform in January 2019, and aims to reach the broadest possible audience by adopting Arabic and English in addition, spreading the culture of art, knowledge of the old famous heritage, and what lived in Yemen in the period Prosperity…
Missing the past
Yemen lived in the early 1990s, 1980s, and before, a prosperous period in several areas, particularly in culture, arts, and heritage. However, this prosperity has completely ended from the end of the 1990s until now. Hence, the recollection and nostalgia remain of what Yemen has experienced.
“People in wartime need any message or glimmer of hope to hold on to it; Yemen's past has had many stories that inspire us as Yemenis and non-Yemenis because our history and heritage are rich. People in the present need something to speak with and touch them in one way or another,” says Al-Hagri.
“The aim is not to stay in the past but to be able to build the present to rise to the future,” concludes Al-Hagri.
Difficulties and self-exertion
The team needs help searching and collecting information, as the content on the platform from the 1970s and 1980s, finding visual content is not easy, and it takes a long time to find and verify the information.
There are also ideas that the team would like to implement in the coming period, but because of the lack of support, these projects and ideas are faltering, and the work is based on volunteerism and the hope of obtaining support in the coming period for continuity.
In terms of the production of stories, the team faced difficulties, such as “One Sofrah,” an animation film that speaks about the Ramadan atmosphere in Yemen (A special month on the Islamic calendar), where the work in production took nearly three months in searching for sources and making a story, drawing, animation, sound, and visual effects. In addition, when holding an exhibition in the Yemeni capital Sana'a at the field, the number of applicants attending exceeded 400 people. The platform has a large popular base in Yemen, especially in Sana'a, but because of the security situation that Yemen is going through, it was only 80 people.
Yemen is not just a war country.
The “Yemen Used to Be” platform aims to introduce Yemen's history in English and Arabic to reach Arabs and foreigners and publish and introduce Yemen. It is not only a country of war. However, arts, culture, traditions, and artists have emerged in many unknown areas.
In addition, it is a message of foresight in the past, to take the benefit of that golden time to complete the artistic, literary, and cultural approach that was then.
This platform is the first of its kind in archiving cultural and artistic history in Yemen, where Yemen has witnessed a cultural decline and neglect in all fields, especially in light of the war since March 2015. The presence of such platforms reflects a positive image of the current circumstances in Yemen, as well as love, beauty, and hope.