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Last of the Dictionary Men: Stories From the South Shields Yemeni Sailors. A hybrid-project with several component parts: touring exhibition and museum installation (first shown 2008) plus catalogue (2013).

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Tina Gharavi

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Abstract

A multi-faceted project exploring the histories of the Yemeni community in South Shields including a video installation, a photographic commission, a feature length documentary and a touring exhibition and catalogue. The North East boasts a proud maritime heritage that has all but disappeared from today’s landscape along the River Tyne. Within this heritage lies a remarkable Middle Eastern connection, South Shields is the Land of the Arabs! Over the course of 100 years, thousands of seamen from Yemen settled in the small town of South Shields, made it their home and successfully integrated into UK society. But now only 14 seafarers survive – they are The Last of the Dictionary Men, as people from Yemen are called in the Middle East, and filmmaker Tina Gharavi & photographer Youssef Nabil and the local Yemeni community have been involved in a race against time to preserve their history. Over the course of 3 years, the team has worked closely with these seamen, bringing their stories to life and capturing the heritage of the oldest settled, Arab and Muslim community in Britain. This is an inspiring story on many levels. The film shows how strikes and industrial unrest in the 1930s ended with hundreds of Yemeni men from Tyneside serving at sea during the Second World War. More than 700 never returned. The North East of England has a notorious reputation as the “whitest” area in the country, yet it is a little known fact that this region has over 130 years of Middle Eastern migration with connections that go back even as far as the Romans! Last of the Dictionary Men is a major international touring exhibition presented by Bridge + Tunnel, paying homage to the history and legacy of the oldest Arab/Muslim communities in Britain today – the Yemeni of South Shields. This unique exhibition: • Makes an invisible community history visible • Challenges misconceptions of Islamic communities in Britain today via the documentation of a highly successful integration and settlement • Informs, educates and raises awareness of Britain’s colonial history and its legacy in our multi-cultural society today. Over an intensive research and development period of three years, Gharavi and her team collaborated with South Shields’ British-Yemeni community and worked closely with the remaining Yemeni seamen in the town to record their endangered oral histories. These are the last 14 men who can tell the story of this remarkable migration history: the connection between the Yemeni and the British Empire, life and work at sea and settling in the North East of England. The exhibition Last of the Dictionary Men, features new commissioned artwork by Tina Gharavi, collaborating with the Egyptian-born photographer, Youssef Nabil, to develop genuine relationships with the Yemeni elders to present a truthful, dynamic and timely portrait of a vulnerable community story. Issues of representation are at the heart of this exhibition. In a world of heightened awareness of the Middle East influence, Last of the Dictionary Men conveys a clear message that migrant cultures have contributed and enhanced the distinct nature of British identity. However, more importantly, this message is from the communities’ own perspective and through an intricate and closely developed methodology. The portrayal of the work is never merely a camera peeping in, but a camera that works hard to capture the hidden dignity, the rare courage, and the loyal subjects of the end of Empire. Last of the Dictionary Men is a lasting monument to the thousands of men who came to work in South Shields, many who died in the Second World War (over 1 in 4 men from the local area who died in the war were of Yemeni origin) and looks to redress historical inaccuracies about the community. This exhibition paints a portrait that the men and their descendents will feel proud of. The exhibition was launched to unprecedented critical acclaim at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in 2008 where it ran for 5 weeks and had almost 18,000 visitors and toured three major cities in Yemen, from 2008 returning to the UK in 2010 where it then opened at the Mosaic Rooms at the Qattan Foundation in London in 2013.


Publication metadata

Artist(s): Gharavi T

Publication type: Exhibition

Publication status: Published

Year: 2008

Venue: Bridge + Tunnel Productions

Location: UK

Source Publication Date: April 2008

Media of Output: Portfolio

Notes: The North East of England has a notorious reputation as the “whitest” area in the country, yet it is little known fact that this region has over 130 years of Middle Eastern migration with connections that go back even as far as the Romans! Last of the Dictionary Men is a major international touring exhibition presented by Nomad Cultural Forum, paying homage to the history and legacy of the oldest Arab/Muslim communities in Britain today – the Yemeni of South Shields. This unique exhibition: • Makes an invisible community history visible • Challenges misconceptions of Islamic communities in Britain today via the documentation of a highly successful integration and settlement • Informs, educates and raises awareness of Britain’s colonial history and its legacy in our multi-cultural society today Over an intensive research and development period of three years, I have collaborated with South Shields’ British-Yemeni community and worked closely with the remaining Yemeni seamen in the town to record their endangered oral histories. These are the last 14 men who can tell the story of this remarkable migration history: the connection between the Yemeni and the British Empire, life and work at sea and settling in the North East of England. The exhibition Last of the Dictionary Men, features new commissioned art work by myself, collaborating with the Egyptian-born photographer, Youssef Nabil, where we both developed genuine relationships with the Yemeni elders to present a true, dynamic and timely portrait of a vulnerable community story. Issues of representation are at the heart of this exhibition. In a world of heightened awareness of the Middle East influence, Last of the Dictionary Men conveys a clear message that migrant cultures have contributed and enhanced the distinct nature of British identity. However, more importantly, this message is from the communities’ own perspective and through an intricate and closely developed methodology. The portrayal of the work is never merely a camera peeping in, but a camera that works hard to capture the hidden dignity, the rare courage, and the loyal subjects of the end of Empire. Last of the Dictionary Men is a lasting monument to the thousands of men who came to work in South Shields, many who died in the Second World War (over 1 in 4 men from the local area who died in the war were of Yemeni origin) and looks to redress historical inaccuracies about the community. This exhibition will paint a portrait that the men and their descendents will feel proud of.


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