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Last Of The Dictionary Men


Tuesday to Saturday, 11am – 6pm, FREE

The North East of England boasts a proud maritime and industrial heritage that has all but disappeared from today’s landscape along the River Tyne. Over the course of 100 years, thousands of seamen from Yemen settled in the small town of South Shields and made it their home. This multimedia exhibition features interviews with and portraits of 14 of these sailors, the last survivors of the first-generation who settled in South Shields.

From the accounts of 800 Yemeni men from Tyneside who died at sea in WW2, to the trade union riots at the Customs House, to the little-known (or long-forgotten) wedding of legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali in one of the country’s first purpose built mosques – this is an inspiring and unheard story!

The works in the exhibition reveal the heritage of this community, whilst challenging the boundaries of conventional modes of representation and authorship associated with social histories and archive. Collectively, this exhibition creates a historical portrait depicting formerly unheardmigration stories that span across the British colonial and post-colonial era.

The exhibition also features the film The King of South Shields, which revisits the Yemeni-British men who met Muhammad Ali when he came to the North East of England in 1977 and had his wedding blessed in Shields’ Al-Azhar Mosque, the first purpose-built mosque in Britain.

South Shields has had a vibrant Arab connection stretching back to the 1890s. This exhibition also offers a timely exploration and understanding of the complexity of British-Arab identities.

The project was initiated in 2005 by Iranian film director Tina Gharavi founder and Creative Director of Bridge + Tunnel. Gharavi was educated in the US and France. She is currently a Lecturer in English (Digital Media) at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and has been nominated for this year’s BAFTA awards. Bridge + Tunnel commissioned internationally renowned Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil to create a series of photographic portraits for the exhibition.

The reference to ‘Dictionary Men’ owes its inspiration to the Yemeni poet and writer Abdullah al-Baradduni, who wrote in 1995: ‘Our land is the dictionary of our people – this land of far horizons where the graves of our ancestors sleep, this earth trodden by processions of sons and sons of sons’.

Exhibition open Tues-Sat 11am-6pm, FREE
Special Sunday Opening: 17 March, 12-5pm

Follow the exhibition on twitter: #dictionarymen

Visit talks & events and screenings to find out more about the accompanying programme!

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