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مجلة المدنية: البحث عن الفن وتوسيع حدود النقاش العام

فبراير 2021

In Yemen’s politically charged sphere, it has become challenging, if not impossible to establish new independent media outlets—even those that shy away from investigative reporting and political analysis. However, despite obstacles, a form of cultural journalism has found its way to a Yemeni audience through the internet. Several new digital media platforms focusing on social and cultural topics in Yemen have garnered a significant following.

One of the most popular is “Al-Madaniya Magazine.” Established in 2017 with the support of the German Institute of Foreign Relations, the magazine is now a prominent digital platform for Yemeni arts and culture contributors where they can publish their articles, photos and videos. The platform aims “to highlight and nurture Yemeni art, culture and civil society initiatives.” The magazine, along with similar digital media platforms such as Khuyut, Manasti30, Yemen Used to Be and Qanbus are encouraging the public to engage in new ways with artwork and cultural discourse. 

They’re enabling and enriching discussions about current social dynamics and analysis of historical events. This open-minded and unrestricted space allows contributors to criticize societal norms, talk about community issues and practice creative methods of expression.

Al-Madaniya, especially, has succeeded in creating an online community where emerging contributors can reach a large audience while receiving editorial guidance and support. This arrangement has made it easier for young artists and authors to freely express themselves and generate dialogue with their peers. Since its launch, Al-Madaniya has published hundreds of pieces with a goal of representing a diverse group of Yemeni authors and visual artists. It promotes contributors from typically under-represented groups such as those living outside urban centers. This editorial approach allows writers to tackle issues that specifically affect Yemen’s unique regions. 

“While editing the writing, we have open communication with authors,” says Hamza Shiban, the managing editor of Al-Madaniya. “We don’t impose creative or ideological boundaries, and we work with authors of all levels. Some are distinguished, published authors, and some are publishing an article for the first time.”

Moving forward, the publication will continue to recruit new talent. In 2021, Al-Madaniya wants to explore visual contemporary art in an effort to introduce audiences to new styles and formats of artistic expression.

The platform’s digital design further fosters productive dialogue by encouraging readers to interact with writers and other contributors through social media. Readers are invited to share their thoughts on new articles and in turn, are encouraged to share their personal experiences, pushing conversations to new depths. 

An example of this audience engagement can be seen in a piece written by Yousef Alsabahi, a Yemeni filmmaker based in Los Angeles. In his article titled “Sad al-Ghareeb: Notes on Script and Performance in Yemeni Drama,” Alsabahi presents a comprehensive critique of a drama series made in Yemen. The piece drove a discussion about the challenges of film production in Yemen, namely in script writing and a lack of training for performers. It prompted many readers to suggest that more mentorship opportunities are needed in the country for screenwriters and actors.

Although the magazine does not directly address political debates, it does often explore ideas related to identity politics and reflect on the impacts historical political figures have had on Yemen. The arts, as medium of expression, are not—nor should they be—disconnected from Yemen’s current conflict. The ability to question historical events and iconic figures is one way of understanding current events from multiple perspectives.

As part of the magazine’s mission to invest in new artists, editors choose to add visuals such as digital art, photography or original paintings to many articles. In a conversation with Fatima Saleh, Al-Madaniya’s arts and culture editor, she highlighted the magazine’s commitment to this practice, saying, “Most of the artists we collaborate with are emerging talents. We also try to diversify the format of the artwork. We constantly seek to explore new forms of visual arts.” One of Saleh’s favorite pieces where editors worked with both a writer and artist to enhance a piece can be found here: “ Why Are Yemenis Killing Their Names?”

Al-Madaniya is able to reach an international audience because it’s a bilingual platform, published in both Arabic and English. Exposing outsiders to young and talented Yemeni artists and writers allows them to see a more representative side of Yemen—apart from the standard media reports focused on the country’s poverty and conflict. English-speakers can easily connect with Yemeni contributors eager to make global contacts. They can also access dozens of articles and sources that highlight the country’s rich culture.

“Being a bilingual platform is an advantage [and] seeing Al-Madaniya’s content referenced elsewhere is rewarding,” Shiban, the managing editor, says.

However, despite the success of online platforms, large portions of Yemen’s population are still unable to access magazines like Al-Madaniya’s. This is largely due to low literacy rates and a lack of access to the Internet, especially in rural areas. Still, these publications are playing a critical role in generating important cultural conversations at a time when voices are being silenced by Yemen’s warring parties. 

Author bio: A graduate student in Journalism, Media, and Globalization by day, and a communication and social media researcher by night. She carries an undergraduate degree in Information Technology Management from the Lebanese American University. In 2019, she worked at Dar El-Nimer for Arts & Culture with a team of professionals in collections, curation, media, and outreach. In 2020, she joined YPC communication team on a short-term basis. She is continuously involved in supporting the cultural activity in Yemen, both independently and through Basement Cultural Foundation until late 2020. Occasionally, she shares thoughts with VICE Arabia and Al-Madaniya about pop and alternative cultures in the MENA region, and digital media-related topics. Previously, based in Yemen, Lebanon, USA, Qatar, Denmark, and currently in Germany. 

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