Abdulbaqi Shamsan to YT: “Art has always served as a complement to my academic career” [Archives:2001/17/Culture]

April 23 2001

Abdulbaqi Shamsan is a Yemeni intellectual and author currently doing his Ph.D. in Tunisia. As a Taiz-born Yemeni, he has been a source of pride for the whole country for his contribution to social sciences and arts. He also gained respect of the various academic sectors in Tunisia within his 12-year stay in its capital, Tunis. His Ph.D. topic is “The political party and tribe in Yemen”, which is being supervised by Dr. Al-Tahir Labib. He expressed candidly his bond with his home country and determination to accomplish something useful for it.
Despite his study at the Human and Social Sciences Department of University of Tunisia, he has also excelled in literature, theater and the arts. His main contributions to the Arab literature include his novels and short stories, of which Al-Quds, Al-Zaman, Al-Finiq, Al-Sahafa are only a few. His theatrical works are of great value in Tunisia and in the Arab world. He is the founder of Hiyam Watar Theater and art works.
Abdulbaqi Shamsan has won several awards in both social science and theater, the most prominent being the third Arab award at the Social Scientist Forum in Tunis in 1999. He has also participated in several seminars and conferences in many Arab countries. He has a rich experience in the field of sports as he was a trainer in boxing at the Taliah Club of Taiz. He left Yemen to study in Tunisia in 1989, and since then, he has been living there and has become a prominent figure in the Republic of Tunisia.
During his last visit to his home country, Yemen Times had the opportunity of meeting Abdulbaqi Shamsan.
Q: First of all, how does it feel to come back to Yemen after 12 years now, and how different is the country now compared to the country then?
A: The period during which I was away from my homeland has witnessed several political, social, cultural, and economic developments. The two main events of this period were the 1994 civil war and the 1990 Gulf war. Both these events had quite a strong negative impact on the country. For that matter it would have been equally devastating for any country in the world, let alone for a country with so many complex ideological, cultural, economic, and political structures. The country’s move in the last 12 years towards modernization has been hindered by the events and the failure in implementing the appropriate mechanisms to adapt itself to the new digital era. I personally feel that this failure has led to frustration among the public due to the deterioration in their economic conditions. I realize that the middle classes are beginning to disappear and most of the citizens are now joining the lower class of the population. The middle and low classes are the ones who have suffered most from the economic deterioration during the last decade. The concern of the few middle class families continues every day because they find no other way to go except down the drain. This is true even after finding alternative ways for making a living, which has become essential for survival. It is obvious that economic devastation is the main cause that blocks the development and prosperity of the country.
From what I see, there needs to be sincere efforts to arouse the optimism that Yemenis were once famous for in order to build the modern Yemen that we all long to have.
Q: How do you visualize the future of Yemen in view of the past events and experiences, especially when as you said, the economic hardships continue?
A: Being aware of the fact that the Yemeni unification comes at a time of national, regional, and global change, the Yemeni leadership should find enough time to build the modern country ensuring the following:
1-A full understanding of the complex realities in the country in social, political, cultural, and economic terms.
2-Removal of all obstacles for building a modern country on an appropriate basis. For this an infrastructure capable of pushing Yemen’s development on all levels should be built. The many events that happened during the first few years after unity have hindered the attempts for development, and the shortage in time also have so far made it even more difficult.
The country has faced tremendous difficulties and challenges during the last decade. The leadership has naturally been struggling to calm things and bring them under control. This has given them little time to work for overall development. It becomes clear when we realize that social and cultural development is in itself a long-term process that requires patience and stability, especially for a country like Yemen where conservative norms prevail. Time and hard work, in my view, are the key to a better future. We need more time to build a modern country socially, economically, politically, and culturally. If we start the process of reforms and continue with them until the end, we will be able to modernize Yemen and bring it out of its isolation.
Q: Could you now talk about yourself? What is the nature of your MA studies in Tunisia, and how are they related to Yemen?
A: My MA research is about the nature of political speech in Yemen. This entails analysis of the approach of different political parties while presenting their agenda during the 1993 parliamentary elections.
When I decided to take this as the subject of my research, I was apprehensive about not reaching an objective conclusion as there was little material on this subject, the 1993 elections being the first elections to be held in Yemen. I, however, along with my supervising instructor, Dr. Al-Tahir Labeeb was determined to pursue this research, and I am glad we did so.
I had to analyze the contents of different speeches from a modern manner. I analyzed the different viewpoints and social standings of the different Yemeni political parties in a situation of competition and conflict to reach a decisive conclusion. My study proves that political parties marketed their speeches based on the social awareness of the public by bringing about common understandings and ideas among them. Eventually I was able to recreate a complete historical background about the political and social movements and used it later for further studies related to the Yemeni political parties’ experience.
Q: What about your P.h.D degree?
A: My Ph.D degree is a continuation of the MA studies I carried out. It is titled, ” Political Parties and Tribes in Yemen: A contribution in the study of the sociopolitical relationship of the Yemeni society.” The study deals with the relationship between the authorities and the tribal sheikhs; a relationship based on blood, alliances, and the ruling party’s power based on the popularity and demand by the citizens. In other words, tribes as a social, cultural, and historic entity do have a significant effect on the authorities represented by the ruling party and the leadership of the country. As we know, political parties evolve according to the social and political environment they are in. Hence, it is obvious that political parties would in some way have a relationship with the society, which is constituted mainly of tribal values. The research also focuses on the specifications and features of Yemeni political parties and how they operate in the complex Yemeni tribal society.
Q: Coming to the other side of your career: art, how do you assess the Yemeni Theater compared to the Tunisian Theater to which you have contributed a lot? Do you have plans to contribute to the Yemeni theater as well?
A: Unfortunately, I cannot talk much about the Yemeni theater due to the fact that I was not involved with it a lot, and because the Yemeni theater is still lagging behind most of the theaters in the Arab world. But regarding the Tunisian Theater, it is among the pioneering theaters on the Arab and African levels. My contribution to the theater is concentrated in my theater group called ” Hiyam Watar”, which I founded along with a number of inventive Tunisian authors a few years ago. Several individuals have participated in my group’s activities including people from Congo, the Netherlands, Tunis, and from multi-cultural individuals. We have taken into consideration the inclusion of actors and writers from multicultural backgrounds to increase diversity, innovation and creativity. Many of our works focus on humane experiences and realities. The theater acts include poetry, pantomime, singing, short story telling, choreography, light shows, and plastic arts.
Our works include some sort of limited insurrection over the established classic theater so as to add to the excitement and interaction of the spectators. Its aim is also to break the boundaries that have been constraining the freedom of creativity and encourage the viewer to live the moments of insurrection consciously and unconsciously in all possible ways.
My experience in this art is still experimental, but has indeed received good response from the university academic sectors and intellectuals in Tunisia. However, until today, I have not reached my intended goal due to the financial difficulties and academic obligations. But once the experience is mature enough, and once the circumstances are permitting, I believe I will be able to do a lot for my homeland by introducing this art to Yemen where I will be staying permanently.
Q: What are the short stories you have written related to Yemen?
A: I have written many stories related to Yemen, some of which I introduced through my group ” Hiyam Watar”. Being an author and director of theatrical acts, I did choose a number of stories about Yemen to be broadcast on the national radio. The stories have been introduced to the Tunisian listeners and critics, who critically evaluated my stories which resulted in rich interaction.
Q: Have you presented your works on Yemeni or Tunisian radio or Television?
A: As for Yemen, I have not presented any of my works for broadcasting yet because I did not have enough time in Yemen to do so. However, I did have some of my works broadcast on Tunisian radio. Unfortunately, I still do not have a complete dramatic work to be presented to the television. I do have a play that I have written, but couldn’t complete due to my academic obligations, but I hope I will be able to complete and present it soon.
Q: Any further comments?
A: I would like to explain that the relationship between academic work and creative work in the form of writing stories or in other theatrical arts is strong as they both complement each other and give a sense of confidence and accomplishment. One should not favor one side over the other because I have realized, from my own experience, that it keeps me balanced and open-minded. I do not deny that I sometimes relegate some of the academic pressure to the theater and writing of stories, yet the extra artistic activities give me the freedom and space to be more creative in many ways, and it provides me with the opportunity to explore new dimensions and accomplish more.
It is worth mentioning however, that the sociological scripts sometimes reflect a sense of creativity when it results in ideas that come out of the drawn lines to the main focus.
But the theatrical and more interactive experience in arts is something else. I feel that it comes out of my own desire for creating a balance. It is the balance between my theatrical work and my academic studies that provides me with confidence and soundness. Art has always served as a complement to my academic career.