Symbols on the wall - Collecting symbols

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Symbols on the wall Symbols on the wall
Accidental posters Symbols on the wall – Accidental posters
Things on walls Symbols on the wall – Things on walls
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As we traveled North from Ta’izz, I started pondering the symbols I’d seen: some of them I had by now seen often enough that I realized they were not just images, and I started to remember I’d actually seen them before.

For instance, I’d photographed these horses in Ta’izz:

Rearing horse on graffiti wall

Rearing horse on water tank

But “accidentally” I’d also shot a similar horse on a wall in Ibb, the day before:

Graffiti with horse on wall

Even more “accidentally”, there was a horse just like that in some of those colorful posters – but I had not noticed it when I took that shot:

Horse on poster

Looking out at the landscape while we traveled, and thinking about the symbols I’d seen, suddenly something clicked in my mind – and I remembered something: I’d read an article once – years before – about how in countries with a high level of illiteracy the political parties were each recognizable by their own symbol and these were used on the ballot forms as well. Suddenly I was sure something like this was happening in Yemen, too. So I asked one of our drivers, who not only confirmed it, but also told me there were many more symbols than we’d seen so far, sometimes for local parties that didn’t play a role on a national level.

During the trip I never looked back at that colorful shot of posters in Ibb, but it was pivotal. When I looked at my photos once back at home, there was one detail in this photo that really pulled it all together:

Horse, ballot box and checkmark on poster

It’s like a cartoon: “Our symbol is the rearing horse,” it says, “and when you go to vote, find that horse on your ballot form, put your checkmark next to it, and then put it in the ballot box.” Not only does this poster connect “elections” (via the ballot box) with the horse, it also connects the “checkmark” with the process of voting. Since it’s designed for people who cannot read, it’s quite clear to those of us who cannot read Arabic either!

Sure enough, it was now clear that many symbols were indeed associated with checkmarks, both on posters and where painted on the walls. In fact, sometimes you can just make out a checkmark, but not the symbol. The so far somewhat puzzling “ad” of the man with the telephone (taken in Zabid) now reveals itself as a political statement: that telephone has a checkmark right above it, defining it as a political symbol: no phone number needed! Now, a little drawing by itself may not immediately mean much, but if it’s associated with a checkmark, the message is clear: vote for the party with this symbol! (Why his face seems to be scratched out remains a mystery, but it could be similar to the painting over graffiti and posters we’ve seen.)

All of the following details of photos we’ve seen so far have checkmarks in them, even though the associated symbols cannot always be recognized:

Crescent moon and star

Lion??

Rearing horse

Rearing horse

Rearing horse

Lion

Rearing horse

Rearing horse

The iconography is now clear. Now, the sport is to spot as many as possible different symbols, and sure enough we’ll find several new ones, some (unlike the rearing horse) occurring quite locally.

We’ll also see that a few symbols are so “strong”, they do not even always show up with a check mark. The rearing horse and the rising sun are two examples we’ve already seen.


© 2010 Marjolein Katsma – photos © 2007 Marjolein Katsma

Symbols on the wall - Collecting symbols

Marjolein Katsma

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Please read the Introduction first!

Below is the table of contents of the photos in this chapter Collecting symbols:

Symbols on the wall (13) - a window in Manakhah   Symbols on the wall (14) - a wall near Manakhah   Symbols on the wall (15) - disused shop near Manakhah   Symbols on the wall (16) - tower house near Al Hajjarah   Symbols on the wall (17) - a wall in Kawkaban   Symbols on the wall (18) - Kawkaban town gate   Symbols on the wall (19) - rock dwellings above Shibam   Symbols on the wall (20) - a sign in Thula   Symbols on the wall (21) - shop at At Tawila   Symbols on the wall (22) - wall in At Tawila   Symbols on the wall (23) - road from Al Mahwit to Sanaa   Symbols on the wall (24) - road from Al Mahwit to Sanaa   Symbols on the wall (25) - road from Al Mahwit to Sanaa   Symbols on the wall (26) - a house in Amran   Symbols on the wall (27) - Amran town gate   Symbols on the wall (28) - old Jewish quarter in Sanaa   Symbols on the wall (29) - a little square in Sanaa   Symbols on the wall (30) - Madrassah Mosque minaret in Sanaa

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