Graffiti artist paints for peace on Yemen’s bloodstained walls
While the death toll stands at more than 10,000, a further 3 million have been flung to all corners of the nation and beyond, and more than half of the 22 million population are barely surviving the war.
Like Pandora’s Box, the conflict has unleashed even more fiends to concern Yemen’s otherwise peaceful and care-free civilians.
Hunger, poverty, kidnapping, airstrikes, drone strikes, sectarianism, civil war, recruitment of child soldiers, regional-meddling and government corruption are among the many crises to hit the country once described as ‘Arabia Felix’ – Happy Arabia – but one man has marched towards the frontlines of these battles, armed with nothing but a paintbrush and a graffiti can.
“I believe that art can have important messages,” Murad Subay told The New Arab. “It reaches more people – especially graffiti murals which are seen by hundreds of thousands of people walking by it every day.”
The 29-year-old has used his talents to paint the town red, white and black, since the extraordinary days of the 2011 Arab Spring.
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But among the flags and the patriotic symbols, Subay, along with his other peers, have imprinted his visions of both despair and hope along Yemen’s iconic, old-brick walls.
“People who pass by while we’re painting praise us, pray for us and sometimes even join us in painting,” he said, noting that men, women, children the elderly “and even soldiers” have stopped to contribute to the colours seen on the walls of the city.
“They feel like we’re highlighting their concerns and issues by discussing them on the streets.”
The Sanaa-based artist himself has felt the blow of the conflict.
“My brother, a journalist and writer was shot in both legs twice for his satirical pieces against the warring parties,” he said.
“Two of my relatives were killed during the war and my 14-year old cousin was also killed,” he added, noting that he was recruited as a child soldier by one of the armed groups involved in the conflict.
Despite this, Subay remains hopeful and believes his efforts of the past five years have had an impact on society.
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“Even if art is not going to feed the poor or stop the killings, I still feel like its presence in these times is crucial. It is our way of saying we want peace. It is our way of saying there are other alternatives to violence.”
Several attempts have been made to arrive at a peaceful political settlement aimed at ending the conflict since it began in September 2014 and escalated with the Saudi-led coalition intervention in March the following year.
However, the peace talks – though backed by numerous global powers – have failed Yemen’s population time and time again, causing many to lose hope amid the ongoing suffering.
“Hope is all that is left for us now, the war has taken away everything else,” Subay suggests.
“If we to give up on hope, then the whole place will turn into a big grave of people who chose to let go.
“If the political parties fail to see a chance of cooperation and peace, then we’ll keep reminding them. It’s the only way out.”