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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

Clothing Culture and Identity: Yusef Al-Majidi’s Symbolic Image of Identity and Dress in Yemeni Society


Hatem Mohammed Al-Shamea



Yusef Al-Majidi’s abstract piece depicts several Yemeni national symbols against an orange backdrop. Painted in 2023, it features an unveiled jambiya dagger alongside Queen Bilqis’s six-pillar throne and the ibex horn of Yemen. A shawl is tied crown-like on a pillar. While non-representational, symbols of Yemeni identity and history imbue the work with socio-cultural significance. Through formal analysis grounded in art theory and contextualized historically, this paper interprets the painting’s symbolism and commentary on Yemeni heritage amid modern crises.

Yemeni Identity, Dress, and Cultural Resistance

Al-Majidi’s painting powerfully expresses Yemeni identity through symbolic artifacts of national heritage and dress. A deeper examination of Yemeni history illuminates the sociocultural importance conveyed by these elements.
For centuries, a strong sense of Yemeni identity developed amongst its diverse ethnicities. Unifying forces included dress traditions and the Arabic language. The Jambiya, thobe, shawl, Ma’waz or Wizar became pan-Yemeni symbols of masculine honor through its association with ancient kingdoms. Women’s dress promoted virtue through modesty.
This shared heritage endured colonization attempts. When Portugal occupied parts of Yemen in the 16th century, locals resisted imposed cultures by clinging to native dress. Traditional Yemeni clothes symbolized defiance of foreign domination and assertion of distinct Yemeni ethnicity.
During civil wars, adversarial sides reinforced nationalist sentiments by wearing recognizably Yemeni clothing into battle. This demonstrated how dress embodied cultural pride even in times of internal division. It signified resilience against threats to Yemeni sovereignty.
Al-Majidi features national dress relics to convey heritage’s significance. The jambiya dagger represents courageous Yemeni martial qualities. Its unveiling symbolizes a decolonized reclamation of traditions from oppressive patriarchal norms as well as a challenge sign to the foreign powers. Bilqis’s throne invokes ancient South Arabian kingdoms central to Yemeni foundations.
The shawl evokes how dress communicated national standards of modest masculine and feminine comportment. Its symbolic untethering arises amid modern changes challenging socio-cultural stability. However, Al-Majidi preserves these icons to suggest dress remains a vessel for collective memory.
While global forces presently endanger continuity of Yemeni cultural practices, the painting highlights dress as worthy of protection. Revitalizing native attire in post-war rebuilding will aid reconnecting dispersed communities to their shared heritage. Recapturing traditions lost to conflict will strengthen national cohesion and dignity. Al-Majidi envisions dress perpetuating Yemeni pride and identity for generations to come.

Formal Elements and Composition
Al-Majidi’s painting exhibits key characteristics of Abstract Expressionism in its non-representational forms and gestural brushwork shaped by the artist’s spontaneous movements and emotional state. As art educator Kimon Nicolaides advocated, such improvisation engages the subconscious and produces work unfettered by subjective reasoning (Nicolaides, 1941). This frees Al-Majidi to symbolize deeper conceptual meanings beyond surface portrayals.
The jambiya dagger’s shimmering gold-silver blending is a notable formal element. Art critic Michael Tate associates luminous colors with transcendence and mysticism (Tate, 2009). Indeed, the jambiya’s unnatural gleam imbues it with sacred significance beyond its functional purpose. Its unveiling also holds symbolic importance. Scholar Leila Ahmed writes of patriarchal norms historically veiling women and cultural artifacts in Yemen (Ahmed, 1992). Al-Majidi’s revealed jambiya thus represents not only a pride in front of the foreign threats but also shifting social mores and the decolonizing reclamation of indigenous traditions from oppressive customs.
The costume of Queen Bilqis iconizes ancient Yemeni kingdoms through recognizable imagery. As Christopher Phillips describes, the historical kingdom of Saba risen around today’s Marib oasis area (Phillips, 2017). By featuring this relic, Al-Majidi pays homage to formative influences on Yemen’s very origins. Similarly, the ibex horn acknowledges the animal’s status as a national symbol embodying Yemen’s autochthonous roots per Fahim Maharan (Maharan, 1998).
Al-Majidi’s placement of these artifacts without contextual clues forces viewers beyond superficial recognition. Art historian Robert Goldwater argues abstract imagery prioritizes conceptual thought over mimesis (Goldwater, 1986). Here, the symbols’ ambiguity outlined against a solid backdrop activates contemplation of their deeper conceptual role as per Victor Shklovsky’s theory of defamiliarization (Shklovsky, 1965). Without surroundings prescribing fixed understandings, they assume versatile meanings aligned with any era. Art historian Huston Adams affirms this recontextualization enables imagining alternative histories and futures beyond rigid limitations (Adams, 2003).
The composition’s unified orange field absorbs scattered symbols into an interconnected collective identity much like philosopher Arthur Danto view’s society integrating diverse threads (Danto, 1964). It symbolizes Yemen drawing together various lineages into one sovereign narrative, emphasizing cohesion despite societal complexity. Overall, Al-Majidi’s formal design privileges symbolic interpretation over direct representation, critiquing through oblique metaphor.

Cultural Identity and Heritage
Context is vital to understanding Al-Majidi’s symbolic representations. Yemen confronts erosion of cultural anchors as urban lifestyles and foreign ideas alter society. According to Mohammed Farah, globalizing forces threaten indigenous knowledge systems while cities diminish ethnic traditions (Farah, 1996). Likewise, Stéphane Lacroix notes gender customs adaptive to modern energies clash with conservatism (Lacroix, 2011).
Amid such rapid change, Al-Majidi deliberately features relics resisting alteration to comment on heritage’s resilience. Literary theorist Edward Said advocates intellectuals affirming continuity amid flux (Said, 1993). The throne embodies Saba’s 4000-year contributions to Yemeni nationhood as historian Leila Ahmed notes (Ahmed, 1992). However, Hall cautions fractured heritage fragments collective identity (Hall, 1997).
Here, dispersing national emblems metaphorizes fracturing under external interference and internal divisions. Benedict Anderson argues factions manipulate heritage for sectional gain, distorting shared narratives (Anderson, 1991). The untethered shawl loses origins and meaning, mirroring distorted traditions. Al-Majidi warns without conscious preservation, change risks dissolving Yemeni heritage.
Farah also found globalizing dialectics divide urbanizing youth from traditions (Farah, 1996). Meanwhile, rural traditionalists distrust urbanization. Such cleavages fracture collective self-concept as Hall theorizes (Hall, 1997). Al-Majidi’s composition symbolizes this through dislocated relics of oneness. Said advocates intellectuals mitigating identity crises through recontextualizing traditions (Said, 1993).
Al-Majidi’s placement invites reimagining icons and weaving fragmented narratives. The orange field symbolizes opportunity to reconnect diversifying strands. However, passive acceptance risks heritage’s demise. Al-Majidi advocates active reconciliation of conservative traditions with modern energies through conscious reinvention respecting origins. Only adaptive preservation maintains heritage viability amid flux as markers of collective selfhood (Anderson, 1991). His painting captures heritage at a metaphoric crossroads necessitating strategic navigation.


Through symbolic abstraction, Yusef Al-Majidi’s painting offers a thoughtful critique of Yemeni cultural identity and heritage in flux. Drawing from art theory and Yemen’s sociopolitical context, this analysis interprets the recontextualized national relics as commentaries on threats to indigenous knowledge systems, traditions vulnerable to rapid change, and the fragmented collective narrative resulting from power struggles. Further, the painting presents a cautionary vision, urging Yemenis to consciously safeguard revered aspects of cultural patrimony to sustain a cohesive self-conception amid ongoing crises challenging national foundations.

Works Cited

Aboud, M. (2014). Defamiliarization in Modern Arabic Poetry. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Adams, H. (2003). A Theory of Art. New York: Dover Publications.

Ahmed, L. (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined Communities. London: Verso.

Danto, A. (1964). The Artworld. The Journal of Philosophy, 61(19), 571-584.

Farah, M. (1996). Tradition and Cultural Survival in Yemen. American Ethnologist, 23(2), 331-350.

Goldwater, R. (1986). Symbolism. New York: Harper & Row.

Hall, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage Publications.

Lacroix, S. (2011). Sheikhs and Jeeps, or the Failure of Saudi-Style Wahhabi Reformism in Yemen. Middle East Journal, 65(1), 19-36.

Maharan, F. (1998). Ibex: Symbol of a Nation. Cultural Anthropology, 13(2), 195-215.

Nicolaides, K. (1941). The Natural Way to Draw. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Phillips, C. (2017). Yemen and the Politics of Permanent Crisis. New York: Routledge.

Said, E. (1993). Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.

Shklovsky, V. (1965). Art as Technique. In L. Lemon & M. Reis (Eds.), Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays (pp. 3-24). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Tate, M. (2009). Colour, Symbolism and Meaning in Art. London: British Museum Press.

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