سأنفذ جدارية بمساحة “9 أمتار عرض، و 6 أمتار إرتفاع” يوم الإثنين 18 نوفمبر 2019، على جدار في وسط مدينة باريس في منطقة “المارين”، بالتعاون “إمنستي، اوكسفام، كير، ميديسن دو موند، أكت، اكشن كونترا لفام، سيم اوف از”, يليها مؤتمر صحفي صباح الثلاثاء أمام الجدارية.
On Monday 18 November 2019, I will do a mural on a wall (9mX6m) in “La Marin” area, middle of Paris, in a collaboration with “Amnesty, Oxfam, Care, Medecins Du Monde, Action Contre La Faim, Sum Of Us, and Act”. Follows a journalistic confrence on Tuesday morning in front of the mural.
17 July 2019 10:10 UTC | Last update: 1 day 10 hours ago
The conflict in Yemen, now in its fifth year, has been called an “invisible” war. The same could also be said of the country’s art scene: ask an art connoisseur or expert in the Middle Eastern market to name a major modern Yemeni artist and you are likely to draw a blank. “Good Yemeni artists are very few and far between,” said one expert, approached for this piece.
‘There’re so many talents but nobody encourages them’
– Khadija al-Salami, Yemeni film-maker
For many in the art world, there are no established 20th-century Yemeni names, no “modern masters” comparable to the Syrian painter Fateh al-Moudarres, or Iraq’s Jewad Selim, whose best works sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction years after their deaths. In contrast, Yemeni artists rarely make an international impact.
The country’s art scene, like its governments, has in part been hampered by continuously changing borders and political instability. As unrest has descended into war during the past decade, so international cultural organisations like the British Council closed down the spaces it offered for art exhibitions.
“There’re so many talents but nobody encourages them,” says Khadija al-Salami, the Yemeni film producer, director and a cultural attache at its embassy in Paris. “They are self-generating. There is nothing that really encouraged them, just an internal force that leads them to do what they do.”
In Yemen, she said, art is regarded as “something that’s just wasting your time. It’s: ‘What’s wrong with this guy?”
Artists, art clubs and the USSR
But it is wrong to see modern art in Yemen as without any heritage. The scene had its beginnings in Aden’s painting clubs of the 1930s and 1940s, says Anahi Alviso-Marino, a Paris-based academic and the leading specialist on the subject.
“It’s just not part of the official story of art in the region. This quarter of the world is quite invisible. That doesn’t mean that there are no artists or art practices or art history.”
Alviso-Marino, through her research, has documented how artist associations, societies, studios, and later, private galleries emerged during the later 20th century in Taiz, Sanaa, and Aden.
The painter Hashem Ali, for example, who died in 2009, ran his studio in Taiz during the 1970s and 1980s – the city held an exhibition and auction of his art in May 2019 to buy a home for his family.
During the same time the Association of Young Artists was active in Aden while the military museum in Sanaa housed Peace Guardians, a major painting by Abd al-Jabar Nu’man.
During the 1990s, the Yemeni culture and tourism office published a quarterly arts journal and the University of Hodeidah became the country’s first public university to offer a visual arts degree. Later, the Ministry of Culture set up houses of art to take exhibitions and workshops across the country.
Art in Yemen was also open to overseas influence. Alviso-Marino has uncovered how, during the 1970s and 1980s, a scholarship programme took between 50 and 70 Yemeni painters, sculptors and poster artists to the Soviet Union to study fine arts as part of a Cold War cultural programme. Many spent years in Moscow for their master’s degrees, before returning to the Gulf.
The constraints and horror of the current war have resulted in a fresh wave of Yemeni artists who tend to be young – typically under 35 – and who are wary of being framed only within the context of the conflict.
They do not work in calligraphy or anything that could conventionally be called Islamic, or Middle Eastern art: instead, they often choose photography, film or new media. Many joined the 2011 protests in Sanaa’s Change Square, but do not want to be only defined as the product of just another war-torn country.
The output of this small but determined group, several of whom live and work overseas, has been celebrated across Europe, including exhibitions in Berlin in 2018 and Beirut earlier this year.
In early July the British Museum in London organised a symposium as part of the Shubbak Festival of Contemporary Arab Culture, highlighting the art of four artists (below) of Yemeni origin – a timely barometer of what is happening to the country’s arts.
Visual artist: Salwa Aleryani
Salwa Aleryani, like millions of Yemenis, has seen the country’s regular power cuts worsen since 2012. Many of her fellow citizens have protested about the outages that can last up to 12 hours, but Aleryani was also inspired to create art. The electricity stopped flowing, she noticed, but the bills did not; nor even the demands for early payment.
For her project Where We Were When The Lights Went Out, she took utility bills and counter-stamped them with poetic lines in Arabic such as “A moment in the dark does not blind us” or “They purchased light and smuggled hope.” As a work of contemporary art, it is witty and bitterly ironic.
She also took a series of photographs, wryly observing how domestic electricity generators have become part of the furniture in local shops.
Aleryani trained in the United States after winning a prestigious Fullbright Scholarship. She has never displayed her electricity project but this year showed other abstract installations in Vienna, as well as at group shows in Istanbul and Berlin, where she is based.
Photography: Rahman Taha
Rahman Taha, who is based in Sanaa, has had his photography featured in The New Yorker and Forbes. He previously ran an art gallery in the Yemeni capital.
His films include Short Scenes Based On A True Story, an impressionistic view of life in Yemen. “It showed how you can make art in Yemen,” he says. “I tried to make it a commentary.
“I’m trying to understand Yemen the place and the people, and we have too many beautiful things in Yemen, even Yemeni people don’t know about this.”
Recent projects include Mr Ali, which explores Yemen through the eyes of a man of nearly 80, who has spent his life working on coffee plantations; and photographs of Yemenis watching the World Cup in Sanaa.
From Mountains To The Sea, another of Taha’s works, reflects on Yemenis’ relationship with land and sea, including how residents migrate from the villages to the cities to secure well-paid work with militias.
In the coming months, he will be based in Cairo, ahead of an exhibition at the city’s much-respected Townhouse Gallery later this year.
“When you are inside the country, you have your own eyes,” he says of working in Yemen. “But when you move to another place, you change your opinion and think in a different way. This is important. The normal moments in life, it’s important too.”
Visual arts: Ibi Ibrahim
Ibi Ibrahim is a visual artist and photographer based in Sanaa, whose wide-ranging work even includes dress design. He is the founder and director of the Romooz Foundation, an NGO which organised the recent exhibitions of contemporary Yemeni work in Berlin and Beirut, as well as more informal presentations in Sanaa.
His exhibitions include artists like Arif al-Nomay, whose project The Corrupted Files consists of digital photographs taken in 2014 at Sanaa’s Summer Festival that were accidentally corrupted by his computer. The 60 images, shown as a grid installation, reveal what the catalogue described as “an ominous and eerie view” of the festival from days past.
Other work at the exhibitions has included collages, installations, neon art, and documentary photography. Artists in Yemen, Ibrahim says, paused only a few months when the conflict started. “When we realised the war was going to continue, we started making art.”
Street art: Murad Subay
Murad Subay from Sanaa is a self-taught street artist who is currently on a year-long scholarship in France. Although he is labelled by the media as “Yemen’s Banksy”, his work has yet to sell at Banksy prices.
His first campaign, Colour The Walls Of Your Street, ran for three months in Yemen in 2012. Later that year, he created The Walls Remember their Faces, stencilling hundreds of faces across Sanaa and other cities in memory of the victims of “enforced disappearances”.
“The people are essential for this art scene, which is street art,” he says. “They were there with support, with participation because the unique thing about the street art in Yemen is that people are not the audience. They are participating by painting, by supporting, even by criticising.”
In the UK, Subay’s work is on display at the skateboard park on London’s South Bank as part of a campaign against the arms trade, and at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, where Devoured, a grim image of a skeletal figure being pecked by a crow, is part of the exhibition Yemen: Inside A Crisis.
جيل بأكمله تم تضييعه منذ بداية إجتياح المدن عام 2014 وحتى الحرب الحالية التي بدأت عام 2015، لقد تم هدر أحلام الشباب والشابات والشعب اليمني الذي تطلع في يوما ما منذ سنوات للحاق بالعالم، ليعيش كباقي الشعوب في حرية وعدل.
جداريتي “الجيل الضائع”, ضمن مجموعة “وجوه الحرب”, على جدار في العاصمة البريطانية “لندن”, 5 يوليو 2019.
شكر خاص للرائع “روب ماكينس” لكل جهوده بذلها في توفير المكان اللازم لي لعمل الجداريات وللصديقة “سميه بخش”
An entire generation has been lost from the beginning of the invasion of the cities in 2014 until the ongoing war that started in 2015. The dreams of the young people and the Yemenis (it is the same for the people in the region), who someday dreamt to live like the rest of the world in freedom and justice.
“The Lost Generation”, part “The Faces of War” street art collection, on a wall in London, July 5, 2019
A special thanks to the wonderful “Robbie Macinnes” who helped me with finding a place to do my murals and to my friend “Sumaya Baksh”.
Yemen’s ongoing war has left millions of people displaced, hungry, and hopeless. The fluid authority of local factions, the lack of news sources, and pervasive illiteracy all work to stifle public discussion within Yemen. But street graffiti, presented in local context, is a way to slip past those obstacles: to promote citizens’ involvement and provide hope. A burgeoning group of artists has developed street campaigns and involved the community in work that visualizes the indomitable spirit of Yemenis. Murad Subay, maybe the most well-known of them, vows to continue to draw graffiti: “This is how I fight in this war.”
AGSIW spoke with Murad about his beginnings in street art, the effects of the war on his art campaigns, and his motivation to persist.
AGSIW: Describe how you became involved in street art. Why does street art appeal to you?
Murad: I have been interested in art since I was young. But, during Yemen’s revolution in 2011, I was tested. I decided to go out in the streets to participate. On the streets, I learned the power of my voice. Although the revolution failed, I knew I had to persist.
What could I do? I don’t believe in taking up arms, so I decided to take my paintbrushes and make public murals. I launched my first campaign, “Color the Walls of Your Street.” Other artists and community members came out to help paint in the streets and express common grievances. After that, I continued to launch campaign after campaign in different parts of Yemen.
AGSIW: Tell us about your recent art campaigns.
Murad: I just completed my fifth campaign called “Ruins,” which was my biggest campaign, lasting two and a half years. Right after our civil war broke out, I wanted to draw focus to all of the human devastation. No one seemed to care about the civilian casualties, and all the warring sides were only trying to grab as much power as possible. I set out to paint on the walls of destroyed areas to break the silence of the war.
The first painting was near the airport in Sanaa. An airstrike destroyed more than seven homes and killed 27 people, including 15 children. I painted a mural of children hanging up rows of flowers along an exterior wall where the airstrike occurred. Throughout the campaign, I traveled to different parts of Yemen to paint 14 murals. Other artists also contributed to the campaign and painted an additional eight murals.
The campaign ended a few months ago, so that I could develop a new collective called “FOW” [Faces of War]. I launched the first three murals in November of this year in [the port city of] Hodeidah, a very disastrous area where there are several ongoing crises including civilian starvation and a terrible cholera outbreak. These murals show the ugliness of war. I know that art cannot actually cure people or feed people, but it can give a voice and a feeling of hope to people who only know the voice of war. I planned to paint several additional murals, but security officials told me I had to stop until they investigated the existing three.
AGSIW: How have you helped other young artists get involved?
Murad: The reason I call my art projects “campaigns” is because I do not work on them alone. I have an annual event every March where I organize an open day for street art. Many new young artists [such as Tammam Al-Shebani, Thiyazen Al-Alawi, and Haifa Subay] got their start through one of these campaigns and went on to become important artists in Yemen’s graffiti scene, starting their own art initiatives [such as “Street Caricature,” “Open Book,” and “Silent Victims”]. Last March, I tried to connect Yemeni youth with communities outside of Yemen. In Reading, England, artists participated and, next year, we aim to hold public events in the United States and South Korea.
AGSIW: How has the public reacted to your art?
Murad: Yemenis are inquisitive by nature. Whenever I am painting a mural, people come to look at it and ask me questions. Commonly, people are suspicious and ask, “Who is sponsoring you?”
Back in 2012, I was painting on a particularly hot day. A man came up and asked me lots of questions. He thought I was annoyed with his line of questioning and walked away. He came back with a cold bottle of water and said, “Take it, Oh Artist.”
Another time, a man driving his family stopped his car and asked what I was doing. I told him that I was working with a collective of artists to discuss issues related to civilian casualties. He was so moved that he tried to give me money. I politely declined but he insisted that he wanted to help in some way. He drove off and came back 20 minutes later with buckets of paint.
Older women come up and often say that they are praying for my work. Words can make miracles, so I am energized by all of the different people I meet and their support for me. This is why I continue because we continue to give each other hope. It is hard to describe this feeling of solidarity but it is very strong in Yemen.
AGSIW: Has the ongoing conflict affected your work?
Murad: Two months before Yemen’s most recent outbreak of war, I started a new project on Yemen’s cultural heritage. I tried to shape metal to make public art installations. However, once the war broke out, I could no longer depend on regular access to electricity. I decided I had to go back to painting murals and graffiti. That is when I decided to launch “Ruins.” War was central to this campaign.
War is normal now, and it is very difficult to operate. I have to make sure that my art does not take sides. I was once investigated by security forces while painting in [the southwestern city of] Taiz. Another time, some artists and I were painting on a school destroyed by one of the common airstrikes. We were trying to highlight what the war has done to Yemen’s education. Some armed men detained us and kept us in a barn that was turned into a jail.
In my current campaign, “FOW,” I have refined my style and moved away from stencils, using free-form. War is the absence of order. The central character in “FOW” has no eyes because of what all Yemenis have witnessed from the wretchedness of all sides who continue to fight. Black hollow sockets remain as to witness Yemen’s destruction. In another one of my paintings, the faces of the three children have vanished. Their faces are skin and bone, empty of dreams and hope.
To see more of his artwork and follow his campaigns, visit Murad’s website.
عندما وصلت الحديدة, مررت بهذا المكان في الصورة, كانت هناك امرأتان تطبخان على قدر فوق كومة من الأحجار والحطب. كان حولهن أطفالهن وخلفهن هيكل يشبه الكوخ مرفوع بأعمدة خشبية وفوقه منشورة خرق من الملابس البالية. ما زالت في ذاكرتي ابتسامتهن على الرغم من قساوة حياتهن. رجعت ثاني يوم إلى نفس المكان لأطبق هذه الجدارية على جدار مطبخهن الذي على الرصيف, والتي اسميتها ب “تهامة”.
جداريتي الثالثة والتي طبقتها على الجدار في مدينة الحديدة، 25 نوفمبر 2017, ضمن مجموعتي الفنية “وجوه الحرب”.
تصوير: نجيب سبيع
When I arrived at Hudaydah, I passed by this exact place shown in the image. There were two women cooking on a pile of stones and wood. They were surrounded by their children and behind them a cottage-like structure raised with wooden pillars and above it were worn-out clothes. I still remember their smile despite their harsh lives. I returned the next day to the same place to put this mural on the wall of their “kitchen” on the pavement, and named the mural “Tihama”.
I installed the mural in Hudaydah, November 25, 2017. It’s part of the new art collection Faces of War (FOW).
هنا بلد بلا باب .. تماما كهذا الملعب الذي نُزع بابه، وتحول بعدها إلى مكب للنفايات والفضلات. يتمسك الأطفال بفتحة الباب الصغيرة على أمل انه ما يزال هنالك باب يمكن أن يحمي. ولكن .. لا يوجد أنصاص أبواب، فإما باب كامل وإلا فهناك فتحة كبيرة يدخل منها كل شيء.
جداريتي الثانية بعنوان “الهاوية” ضمن مجموعتي الفنية الجديدة “وجوه الحرب”، رسمتها على باب ما كان يدعى بالملعب الرياضي، مدينة الحديدة، 25 نوفمبر 2017.
This is country without a door .. just like this stadium which its door has been ripped off, turning it into a garbage dump. The children are holding on to the door opening in the hope that there’s still a door that can secure and protect. But there aren’t half doors; either it’s a complete door or else it’s a huge opening through which everything can pass.
My second mural “Abyss”, painted in Hudaydah city, November 25, 2017. The mural is part of the new art collection “Faces of War”
في الحديدة هناك جدار فقط يفصل بين من هم في السماء ومن هم على الرصيف، ومجيء الحرب فاقم هذه الكارثة ليلصق جلد الناس بعظمهم. فهنا بدأت المجاعة والأمراض التي انتشرت الى بقية البلاد، في ظل صمت داخلي وخارجي مخيف. هناك جدار صمت متين حول هذه المنطقه ولا يتخلله لإهتمام إلا في مواسم معينة, فالإنسان هنا منسي تماما.
صوره لجداريتي “ثلاثية: الحرب، الجوع والمرض” والتي رسمتها في مدينة الحديدة بتاريخ 25 نوفمبر 2017، وهي الأولى ضمن مجموعتي الفنية الجديدة بعنوان “وجوه الحرب”.
تصوير: نجيب سبيع
In Hudaydah, a mere wall is separating those who live above the sky from those living on the sides of the streets. The coming of war has only exacerbated this catastrophe to make thier bodies nothing but skin and bones. The starvation and epidemics emerged here only to spread wide and flourish across the country, under the auspices of a horrific silence from the inside and the outside alike. There’s a solid wall of silence built around this area that cannot be penetrated unless with some seasonal interest; people here are completely
My mural “Trilogy of War, Hunger, and Illness”, painted in Hudaydah city, November 25, 2017. It’s also the first mural in my new art collection “Faces of War”.
Photo by: Najeeb Subay