Latitude - an imaginary line around the Earth parallel to the equator
Latitude - scope for freedom of action or thought; freedom from restriction
...............................................................................................from an online dictionary

I was quite naive and grossly uninformed when I first got the idea to invite artists from the Nordic countries to join me on an expedition to Yemen. My call for proposals consisted of the following words:

THE BACKGROUND: In 1761 a grand scientific Nordic expedition was organized in order to explore the countries and cultures of Arabia. It was a seven-year-long journey in pursuit of paradise, thought to be in Yemen. Five scientists collected specimens of animals and plants, Arabic and Hebraic scripts. Their copious documents of notes, drawings and maps were later published in several books about Arabia. Much of the material was truly ground-breaking in the North, and some of the results are still in use. I would like to embark on a new expedition to Happy Arabia and to follow the footsteps of these five courageous scientists.

WHY? We live overwhelmed by news and facts, and the entire world seems to be mapped and neatly described. However, the ruthless logic of the Western media gives us a distorted view of present day Arabia. Good news is no news. The mass media is only interested in economic catastrophes, riots, border disputes and civil wars among other vices and woes. One may ask; have we lost our quest to make new discoveries?

THE PROJECT: The journey will be an unforgettable experience taking place in January 2002. We will travel for a month with a local guide throughout Yemen. After the expedition, we will publish a book on our experiences. The publication will function as an ‘anti guide’; a satirical comment on the usual handy manuals that present countries in such an objective way that the thrill of discovery disappears.

What would you like to discover in Arabia Felix?

I received a lot of interesting proposals; Yemen was still mysterious and enticing. That was spring 2001. Then the situation changed and, due to the War on Terror, the expedition was postponed twice, and eventually canceled.

What to do? Could it really be so dangerous to visit Yemen? Being a curious traveler, I decided to journey alone to the Land of Happiness to see it first-hand. I was sure I would not have the difficulties people faced 250 years ago, and could not bear being uninformed about the world.


My expedition throughout the country was not much different from a regular tourist journey, and it was a very inspiring one. I was often lying with my eyes closed in the evenings, recalling the historical sites or the changing geography, the amazing architecture, the people, cars, food, markets, etc. How would I tell about this marvelous country I had discovered anew?

Obviously, I needed help. Once again I invited others to assist me, but this time my request was targeting the Yemenis. During my third travel to Yemen I was discussing the project with many fascinating people, all of whom gave an exceptional insight to the everyday life in Yemen. Just like the scientists in the first Nordic expedition, I was documenting what I saw, but this time the people from Yemen could also tell about their country.

I, too, was trying to fulfill the mission of the very first expeditions: I was looking for a paradise. Whether I succeeded in this search, you will have to decide for yourself.

I want to thank everyone who has supported this project, and most of all the contributors of this publication,
Mahmoud Al Hakimi, who became my excellent guide in Yemen, sharing his great knowledge about the different regions of the country.
Samer Asamiri, whose cartoons I admire highly, and I hope to see more of his drawings outside Yemen soon.
Hassan Al-Haifi, who use the signature Common Sense when writing in Yemeni newspapers.
Montaha Sultan Fara, who is a young journalist at one of the main newspapers in Yemen. She graduated from the University of Sana’a in 2004.
Yasser Al-Mayasi, who is interested in saving the culture and old traditions in Yemen.
Hassan Al-Zaidi, who invited me to the most unusual meeting that brought me in contact with several tribe leaders from Marib.

For more information about the Arabia Felix project, please contact Rita Leppiniemi

Arts Council of Finland
Arts Council of Norway
FRAME - Finnish Fund For Art Exchange
Ministry of Education, Science and Culture in Iceland
Nordic Culture Fund
NBK - Norske Billedkunstnere
Swedish Culture Fund