“The Expeditions Are Not Over”

The Land of Incense

(Yemen: Images of Traditional Culture)

To the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Soviet‑Yemen Complex Expedition

To the memory of Pyotr Gryaznevich

“Once upon a time, a great king lived in happy Yemen…” This is the way the tales of many Muslim peoples begin. It is their version of our “In a Kingdom Far Far Away…” In antiquity, this country, surrounded by sea and deserts and full of treasures and miracles, was called Arabia Felix — Happy Arabia. It was an important part of the Biblical world, and not just because everywhere — in the temples and private homes of the Mediterranean, in Egypt, in Mesopotamia, in India — incense and myrrh were burnt for the gods. There is the Queen of Sheba, amazed by the faith, wisdom and wealth of King Solomon, Jesus’ sermon which calls the Southern Empress to witness, the vivid story in the Qu’ran about the collapse of a powerful nation, the tale of the hoopoe and the appeal of Queen of Sheba… Ideas about the ancient Southern Arabic civilization have a firm place in our culture. At the same time, Southern Arabia is undoubtedly the least studied part of the Biblical world. Russia has indisputably made important achievements in the historical‑cultural, archaeological and ethnographic study of Yemen and its ancient civilization. They are primarily linked with the activity of the Soviet‑Yemen complex expedition of the USSR Academy of Sciences, or SOYCE, the 25th anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. Ten years ago, on 12 February 1997,  Pyotr Afanasevich Gryaznevich died tragically in a car accident. He was one of the most important Russian Arabic scholars and Islam specialists, and founded and led SOYCE for seven years, from 1983 to 1989.

The exhibition is an attempt to see the world of the inhabitants of Yemen, a world of ordinary men and women living in the cities and towns of this country, who in spite of everything are able to preserve their unique culture. Before us are the images and symbols of the traditional culture of the inhabitants of this country. In quarter of a century of field research, Petersburg scholars have gathered wide and diverse ethnographic material. In April, 2007 the film group of the “Ijma‘=Concord” travelled over 2,500 km around the country, visited the main places linked with the work of SOYCE and brought back over 15 hours of video footage and over 3,000 photographs. The selection of these images could have been different, but in our story we followed our own impressions and collections, which were mainly gathered as part of the expeditions in the work by SOYCE.

Authors of the exhibition project:

Efim Rezvan ― concept, head of the project; 
Yuri Chistov, Pavel Pogorelsky, Mikhail Rodionov ― scholarly guideline, texts;
Tanya Fedorova ― artist-photographer;
Tatyana Solovyova and Alexander Solovyov ― video films;
Larisa Jebrovskaya ― design.

With the assistance of Russian Asiatic Society