A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)
There is no present without the past, and there will be no fruitful future if its seeds are not planted in the present.
‘Yemen Used To Be’ is an initiative that aims to alter stereotypes about Yemen. Our purpose was not to stay in the past, but rather to take its insights to help build the present and push towards a better future. What Yemen is going through is a tragedy that has generated negative energy and stopped us from focusing on other things. For that reason, we, a group of young people of all ages, dreams and tendencies, have decided to turn that destructive energy into energy that mends the national spirit struggling under the war. Our first objective is to change the negative image of Yemen in the eyes of those near and far. Within Yemen, people’s spirits have narrowed to a present where all they can see is the negativity around them.From this starting point, we changed focus and started telling stories about how ‘Yemen Used To Be’, and that is how the initiative started.
We came together and created a large database that could to be used in the future as a reference for images of old Yemen, as well as stories of people and lesser known historical landmarks. The idea was to have an overall archive of Yemen in one place and make it accessible in both Arabic and English, to show the hidden beauty of Yemen in a creative way that takes into consideration our contemporary reality.
The initiative was launched through two platforms, the first was Instagram, which started earlier this year in January, and the second was launched about a month ago on Facebook. We chose both platforms based on their widespread use and great popularity in Yemen, the Arab world and the world in general. The aim of the initiative is to attract as many people as possible and to introduce Yemen, to share its beauty, its achievements and its history. So we decided to present the content in the form of a series of consecutive posts focusing on popular artists and poets, as well as social and political figures and intellectuals who are influential in the Yemeni community. In addition to the series, the team is continuously working to develop creative content from other sources of pride and fame in Yemen to present them in the best light.
As with any endeavor, there are difficulties and challenges in accomplishing the work. The greatestchallenge for the ‘Yemen Used To Be’ team was to create moving and still visual content for the viewers. Since the archive is very limited in information, the challenge is to develop, obtain and verify information from several sources.
What makes this initiative stand out is the simultaneous combination of professional content and simple presentation, the attention to small details that could mean a lot to followers, as well as taking into account the views of followers and communicating with them.
The ‘Yemen Used To Be’ initiative aims to spread knowledge about the ancient culture and art of Yemen and to expand knowledge of Yemen’s ancient history and heritage, with the hope of contributing to changing negative stereotypes of this beautiful country and its great people. The team is currently working on going beyond the framework of social media to present content on the ground, in order to reach a wider audience through various exhibitions, events and seminars in a number of countries interested in Yemen at the moment.
Ahmed Al-Hagri is a Yemeni filmmaker and photographer studying Electronic Media at the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. During the past five years, he has worked in graphic design, film production and content development. Ahmed started making short films and documentariesin Hadramout and in Sana’a, where he founded RAW Media, a company that specializes in media and visual production. Since then he has produced a number of short documentaries on the war and conflict in Yemen and worked on several projects, including the project ‘Yemen Used To Be’ and other documentary projects still in the making.