Visiting Shiba

the National Museum of Yemen

24 Aug 2007
  • 10:50 -11:50

The National Museum of Yemen in the capital city of Sana’a was neglected when I arrived in 1998. The buildings needed repairs all over, windows were broken and the exhibits were covered in dust. The text panels and most pictures were full of graffiti. The depot was chock full and in chaos. A proper database was non-existent. The personnel on site was not prepared for their jobs and underpaid. The director didn’t have the funds to organize things properly.

View of Sanaa, Yemen - where Jelle van der Toorn Vrijthof worked on the museum

Years before in the early nineties the Dutch embassy in Sana’a had already allocated a generous amount of money to the museum. At that time the Tropen Institute in Amsterdam was selected to carry out the project of actually setting up the museum.

In 1998, and one revolution further, a next phase of the project was initiated by the Dutch Foreign Office. My company Total Design was selected to execute this second phase. A complete program of building renovation, exhibition design and personnel training was set up. Close collaboration with local expertise was organized and a large number of Yemeni people were trained on the job. Over a period of four years I learned to adjust my opinion about the Arabian peninsula and the significance of the Arabian world. I realize more than ever that I was in a country with a history that goes further back then my own. That we may be different but certainly not better off than the people that live there. My talk will be about the project of the National Museum of Yemen in Sana’a.