It seems these days Instagram has become the answer to everything. For some it is a trending-thing, while for others it’s a dual marketing/promoting medium. And then there are those – like Fatima – who are taking advantage of its appeal to bring vintage onto a contemporary platform.
Fatima is the essential archivist behind Zamaaan – an interactive album of historical photos, many of them emerging from private family collections. Explaining Zamaaan to me, which in Arabic means ‘a long time ago,’ Fatima wrote in an email interview, “I think we’re at a time when it’s more acceptable to share private photos online. Five years ago, if I asked my father if I could publish his photos, he would have probably been wary. But now, everyone’s online and I believe that the region is slowly accepting this digital medium.”
Some photos on Zamaaan shed light on the lifestyle led by people we might actually know, which makes it relatable to viewers. Yet, others are solemn historical evidences of a bygone era, intriguing, nonetheless.
The Obsessed Archivist
Fatima is a native of Mauritania, a little-known Arabian country in West Africa and site of one of the World’s strangest natural wonders called the Eye of the Sahara (Richat Structure). To some extent, that explains Fatima’s fascination with ‘time-locked’ notions. “I’m obsessed with memory and nostalgia,” she explained, “However, the most important reason behind Zamaaan I think is that traveling back and forth from Mauritania I always feel like I am time traveling between two different zones. It seems Mauritania was the land that time forgot.”
Being an ambassador’s daughter, Fatima has lived in the UAE, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Sudan. She went to Qatar on a scholarship to study at the Georgetown SFS-Q University and decided to stay on in Doha after graduating in 2010 with a major in International Politics. “I’ve always been interested in history and archives,” she shared.
“For many reasons,” explained Fatima. Initially, about a year ago, she started nostalgia Tumblr, which failed to gain traction, so she closed it. With the advent of Instagram, she decided to give the concept another start. This time, though, her persistence paid off.
“I’ve been genuinely surprised at the feedback I’ve received,” she exclaimed. “There are accounts out there that feature specific countries or cities, but with Zamaaan I wanted to encompass highlights from the entire Arabian and Middle Eastern region. It’s about showcasing our heritage in a way that’s easily digestible and interesting.”
How Zamaaan works?
With growing followers, fortunately, Fatima is not alone in loving vintage. Whilst the people in the photos are not necessarily recognizable, they give you an undiluted glimpse into a past that is neither staged nor tampered with.
Anyone can submit photos to Zamaaan ([email protected]), only criteria being that it should be vintage photos of Arabs and Khaleeji natives anywhere around the world.
“I get quite a few submissions daily, some are personal photos, but others are interesting historical photos that my followers have found scattered in Instagram. My Tumblr gets about 50 views a day.”
Focusing on the Khaleej, Fatima would love to go offline and scavenge for photos that could tell a narrative once put together. “There is this photo of Muhammad Ali in Doha and I’m sure those who were in the audience at the event, might have taken photos too.”
“Another thing I’m interested in is using the database of images to encourage young artists and designers from the region. There are already a few artists out there who do this, such as Kuwait’s Muneera (@memhasagun) and Saudi’s (@Shaweesh). We should be able to move on and interpret our history in a fun way, engage, remix, and collage it.”
Based in Doha, Fatima is the social media specialist for Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art.
Images courtesy of Fatima.