Yemen Open Day of Graffiti Artists “Art Against War”\ Getty Image


Gallery photo of the annual event “Open Day of Art” in Sana’a, March 15, 2018.


Murad Subay: Yemen’s war makes a month feel like a year\ By: KIERAN ETORIA-KING


Murad Subay: Yemen’s war makes a month feel like a year

The Index award winner talks about his fears of a possible escalation of the conflict in Yemen
03 Feb 2017

US president Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from travelling to the USA for has had devastating consequences for thousands of people. Among them is Index on Censorship Award winner Murad Subay. The Yemeni street artist is now unable to visit his wife, who is currently studying in the USA.

“It’s really frustrating to even start thinking that I won’t be able to see her for that long,” he told Index. “She was supposed to visit during summer break, however, it seems that she can’t do that now.”


With uncertainty surrounding how the Trump administration’s policy towards Yemen will play out, the couple are now facing the very real prospect of not seeing each other until she finishes her studies four years from now.

“It’s been a really difficult time for both of us because it’s the first time we’ve been away from each other for more than a month,” Subay said. “I can’t say that this doesn’t have its negative effects on my work, for it surely does.”

At home, the worries that have plagued Subay throughout the Obama administration remain, particularly Trump’s continuation – and possible escalation – of his predecessor’s drone strikes in Yemen, which by February 2016 had killed up to 729 Yemenis including 100 civilians. One rural counter-terrorism raid authorised by Trump has already left at least 10 women and children dead, according to Al-Jazeera.

2016 Freedom of Expression Fellow Murad Subay

Murad Subay is the 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Arts Award-winner and fellow. His practice involves Yemenis in creating murals that protest the country’s civil war. Read more about Subay’s work.

“Trump has no right to make things even worse for Yemenis. Yemen is already suffering from US arms deals with Saudi Arabia that helped fuel this war. Barring Yemenis from entering the USA under his administration only adds to these troubles.”

The war has been hitting close to home for Subay in recent months. Two of his cousins were recruited by warring parties and killed on the battlefield. – Fuad Subay, aged 26, was a soldier killed in Albuka’a, and Yaser Subay, just 14, was recruited by Houthis and killed in Isilan.

On top of this, a close friend of his, the respected investigative journalist Mohammed Alabsi, was killed in an apparent assassination. According to the Yemen Times, Alabsi had gone out for dinner in Sana’a with a cousin on 20 December. A little while later both men were rushed to hospital, where Alabsi died.

“I was told that blood came out of his ears and eyes,” Subay said. “Mohammed was investigating the black markets trading in oil that were associated with high-ranking politicians. I do not know the exact details of this, but what I do know is that Yemen has lost one of its most important and noblest investigative journalists, and that I lost a dear friend.”

An investigation into Alabsi’s death is underway.

Subay addressed a recent wave of violence against civilians, including journalists and public figures, in a mural entitled Assassination’s Eye, painted on the Mathbah Bridge in Sana’a in late December. Part of the Ruins Campaign, the minimalist painting depicts a sniper’s crosshairs training in on a human target.

“It conveys the assassin’s point of view, where it first feels like it is only a part of training on how to hit a target, but then in the final square the bullet ends up in the head of a real person rather than a target board,” Subay explained. “These assassinations have spread vastly since 2012, where they were mostly carried out among the military ranks and politicians. Lately, however, these operations have been targeting civilians too. I was planning to address this issue some time ago after hearing about the assassinations of innocent civilians in different places of the country, and that was just two weeks before I was shocked by the death of my friend.”

Elsewhere, Subay has been asked to serve as a judge for the Italian arts award, Fax for Peace, which invites students and artists from around the world to send pictures, videos or animations on the themes of peace, tolerance, human rights and the fight against all forms of racism. He said of the role: “It is a great pleasure to be selected as a judge in this contest and it is a big responsibility, which I hope to be able to carry out effectively.”

However, with Yemen’s economic circumstances ever worsening, and many working people now into their fourth month without receiving salaries, he sees difficult times ahead.

“It’s very harsh to see people every day looking for anything to eat from garbage, waiting along with children in rows to get water from the public containers in the streets, or the ever increasing number of beggars in the streets. They are exhausted, as if it’s not enough that they had to go through all of the ugliness brought upon them by the war.”

Referring to the deaths of his cousins and his close friend, he added: “No one can live in this country and not be affected by the war. This all happened in the last three or four months. These events make a month in Yemen feel like a year.”

Continue reading “Murad Subay: Yemen’s war makes a month feel like a year\ By: KIERAN ETORIA-KING”

My mural “Assassination’s Eye”, Ruins campaign


ما زالت الكوارث تتوالى على هذا البلد وشعبه، حروب انتجت الموت والجوع والخوف، وكأن البلد لم تكتفي من هذا بل وجاءت كارثة اخرى إلى هذه الكومة المفجعة وهي عمليات “الإغتيالات” والتصفيات.
منذ اعوام وعمليات التصفيات والإغتيالات السياسية تمشي على قدم وساق في جميع مناطق اليمن، بدأت التصفيات في صفوف الجيش منتقلة لصفوف السياسيين ومؤخرا انتقلت إلى صفوف المواطنين والمدنيين. إستمرار هذا الوضع وهذه العمليات، يجعل اليمن بلد خالي من الحياه ومن التنوع، ويبعدنا تماما عن سلام قريب.
الشعب اليمني منهك من هذا الوضع المستمر بالتدهور الهائل، على جميع الأصعدة. لن يُحكم هذا البلد بالحديد والنار ولا بالخوف والجوع والموت وعلى اصحاب القرار ان يصلوا بهذا البلد بأسرع ما يمكن إلى وقف لهذا التدهور الذي سيطالهم عاجلا أم اجلا ان استمر.

جداريتي “عين الإغتيال” ضمن حملة “حُطام” على جدار جسر مذبح المقابل لمستشفى العلوم والتكنولوجيا، 29 ديسمبر 2016.

Disasters are still coming down on this country and its people, where war is leaving behind death, hunger and fear. Now another disaster is on the rise, “assassinations, adding to the misery of this country as if the tragedy happening in Yemen is not enough. Political assassinations and the extrajudicial killings have been thriving in many regions in Yemen. These operations began among military ranks, and then moved to target politicians, until recently it shifted into targeting civilians. The continuation of this situation and these operations turns Yemen into a lifeless country and deny it its diversity and peace. Yemenis are exhausted from this rapidly deteriorating situation. There must be another way out, for no country in the world should be governed by iron, fire, fear, hunger and death. Decision-makers must end this situation as soon as possible or it will eventually reach them.

My mural “Assassination’s Eye” #Ruins_Campaign, on Mathbah bridge wall, December 29, 2016.

Assassination's Eye1
Assassination’s Eye1

“Children Recruitment mural” VIDC online magazine cover


جدارية “تجنيد الأطفال”، ضمن حملة “12 ساعة” غلاف لمجلة ” معهد فينا للحوار والتعاون الدولي الإلكترونية (في أي دي سي)”، في عددها الفصلي الـ 38.

  Children Recruitment mural, “12 Hours” Campaign, a cover of the magazine of “Vienna Institute for International Dialogue and Cooperation (VIDC)” in its quarterly publication 38.





Tammam Mohammed mural, Ruins campaign

English Text Follows:

هذه الحرب أكبر من أن تتحملها العملة اليمنية.

جدارية الفنان تمام محمد، ضمن حملة “حُطام” في النشاط الثامن بعنوان “تدهور الإقتصاد”، على جدار جسر الصداقة، شارع التحرير، صنعاء بتاريخ 9 يونيو 2016. يظهر في الصورة “البنك المركزي اليمني.

This war is greater than can be borne by the Yemeni currency.

Artist Tammam Mohammed mural, in the eighth activity of “Ruins” campaign around “The Economy Collapse”. It was painted on Al-sadaqah bridge, Tahrir street, Sana’a, on June 9, 2016. The “Central Bank of Yemen” appears in the picture.

Tammam Mohammed mural1
Tammam Mohammed mural1

“The Last Impulse”,Ruins Campaign.

English text follows

يعيش اليمنيون كافة أوضاع كارثيه في ظل الحرب وصراعات الداخل والخارج. الشعب اليمني اليوم يتضور جوعا وعطشا ويفتقد لأبسط الأدويه بسبب الحرب وحصارها. بحسب الإحصائات فإن 21 مليون يمني يحتاجوا إلى المساعدة اليوم، منهم أكثر من 7 مليون يمني بحاجة للمساعدات الإنسانية الأساسيه الطارئه.

جدارية “النبض الأخير”
للفنان/ ذي يزن العلوي، ضمن حملة “حُطام” في نشاطها السادس حول “الحصار”، على الجدار المقابل لوزارة الشباب والرياضه، شارع الزبيري، في اليوم الأخير للعام 2015.

Due to the internal and external conflicts in Yemen, Yemenis live under catastrophic conditions. Today, Yemeni people struggle with the lack of food, water and medications because of war and its siege. According to recent statistics, 21 million Yemeni need assistance, of whom more than 7 million Yemenis need urgent and basic humanitarian assistance.

“The Last Impulse” mural
By the artist Thi Yazan Al-Alawai, under “Ruins” campaign in its sixth activity around “Blockade”, on the opposite walls of the Youth & Sports Ministry, Alzubairi Street, in the last day of the year 2015, December 31.






Q&A: Painting tribute to the victims of Yemen’s war

In Yemen, Murad Subay’s bold murals commemorate the human cost of war.

Zoe Hu | 25 Jun 2015 07:53 GMT | War & Conflict, Humanitarian crises, Human Rights, Arts & Culture, Yemen

Subay's artwork frequently attracts the attention - and comments - of passersby [Majd Fuad/Al Jazeera]
Subay’s artwork frequently attracts the attention – and comments – of passersby [Majd Fuad/Al Jazeera]

Not many street artists welcome an audience. But Yemeni painter Murad Subay, 27, doesn’t like to work in the dark.

His murals – and their bold proclamations of colour – serve as public gathering points, where strangers come to watch Subay paint while offering comments, critiques, and bottles of juice or water.

Whether the murals bear criticism or colourful celebration, they are never done in secret. For Subay, that is exactly the point.

For over four years, the young artist has used five different art campaigns to construct public spaces where people can denounce social ills and express the community’s frustrations.

In his latest campaign, “Ruins”, each mural serves as both art and remembrance; done in tandem with fellow artist Thi Yazen, the project commemorates the civilian deaths of the ongoing violence in Yemen, where the WHO estimates 2,800 have died since March.

While focus may now be on the country’s politics and the recent failure of the Geneva conference, Subay embarked on Ruins in order to call attention to the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

To do so, he has taken his tools to the most damaged areas in Sanaa, erecting murals amid the destruction of air strikes in order to “paint” tribute to the conflict’s human cost.

Subay’s mural in the Beni Hawat area [Majd Fuad/Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera: You began ‘Ruins’ to commemorate the civilians that have died during the conflict in Yemen. Can you speak a bit more about the vision behind this project?

Murad Subay: My goal was to highlight the direct suffering of people in Yemen, and also to express everyday people’s concerns about this war while commemorating the victims of the violence.

I’m against war in general, and I’m not with any [political] party. The one thing I care about, and the thing all people in Yemen care about, is that the war stop.

I first launched the campaign on May 18, in Beni Hawat. I painted a mural in that area, where civilians were killed, many of them children.

You’ll see in the mural that there are black lines on the flowers – when a person dies in our country, we place black lines over their photo to signify that they’ve died. This is what I did on the mural to commemorate the victims, to remember them. You’ll notice flowers with one leaf, and flowers with two leaves. The ones with two leaves symbolise the adult victims, and the flowers with one leaf commemorate the child victims.

We’re trying to do our best. Our work is humble, I know that, but we try to highlight the damage on the civilians, the children, the elderly, the people who are most affected by the war.

This war is not the people’s struggle. The people’s struggle is just to find something to eat, something to drink, and something to provide shelter.

Subay embarked on the ‘Ruins’ campaign in order to call attention to the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen [AP]

Al Jazeera: Some media outlets have nicknamed you ‘the Banksy of Yemen’, but your murals have an important social element that involves the larger community in a way that Banksy’s work does not. Where does this motivation come from, and how do you go about involving others?

Subay: I first began painting after the 2011 uprising in Yemen with the campaign ‘Colour these Walls’, when we painted murals in what was called the ‘red lines’ between the zones of fighting factions.

At the time, I’d wanted to do something, and was hoping that painting would cheer me up and cheer others up as well. It was a kind of commiserating through colours and art. Others came to colour the walls with us.

Now, involving people in our campaigns has become important for different reasons. Our campaigns have begun to address some political and social issues, so input and direction from people are very important.

It means their voices, and ours, will be heard. It helps show different perspectives and views, and also keeps attention focused on these issues, because people feel they can make a difference when they walk by their own work on the streets.

Subay’s mural in the Faj Attan area, which was struck in April by warplanes [Abdurahman Hussain/Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera: What types of social issues does your art aim to tackle?

Subay: We continued the [Colour the Streets] campaign for three months, since mid March 2012 to mid June.

Our second campaign, ‘Make the Walls Remember These Faces’, aimed to remind us of the people who disappeared in Yemen since the late 1960s – kidnapped. We continued it for seven months.

I also have been working on making sculptures, but had to put this project on hold due to the war.

I was only able to make one installation in the street. And then I stopped because there’s no electricity, there are no resources.

The young artist has carried out five different art campaigns in over four years [AP]

Al Jazeera: At a time when prices are high, food and water supplies are scarce, and it’s estimated that 15 million people are in dire need of health services, what role can art occupy? How must art be reconciled with people’s desires to fulfil other pressing relief needs?

Subay: Art is another way to highlight our concerns as people, and to send messages to local people and to the global audience about what’s happening in Yemen. When people see a mural, they are reminded every time that there were killings there.

Yes, there are a lot of things we need, like water and food, but the presence of art is also very important. We have to find other options [to express ourselves] while in a state of war.

We have to talk, we have to argue, we have to find ways to a middle ground. Continuous fighting will not do anything.

I’m doing my best as an artist. What can I do? Take up arms and go to the street? No. I’d rather paint. That’s what I can do.

Source: Al Jazeera

Article Link..



Making Stories Visible

A Yemeni Art History

9 September 2014


In March 2012, a month after former president of Yemen Ali Abdallah Saleh[1] formally left power following a year of contentious mobilizations demanding his overthrow, the walls of Sana’a started being covered by colourful murals and sprayed with myriad paintings. Located on walls that were bullet-marked by violent clashes between demonstrators and forces loyal to the regime during the period before Saleh’s departure, the first paintings to appear were all dated and signed. They were attributed to Murad Subay, the painter in his twenties who initiated this artistic action.[2] Up until he decided to place a call on his Facebook page to take over the streets with brushes and sprays, he had worked on his canvases – which he recreated in March 2012 onwards on Sana’a’s walls – without exhibiting his work at any of the art spaces that existed in the city[3]. Through this initiative, he triggered an artistic action characterized by the use of public space not only to paint, but also to reflect on issues of political concern through art, involving a participative audience.


The campaigns Murad Subay initiated became Yemen’s largest art exhibition ever undertaken in public space. In Sana’a, kilometres of walls were intervened by a diverse public made up of an eclectic youth mostly under thirty and forty, formed by painters, activists, writers and all sorts of passers-by including, at times, even the military stationed at nearby crossroads. Other cities of the country followed suit, and in places like Taez, the walls showed reproductions of works by Hashem Ali (1945–2009), one of the pioneering figures of Yemeni modern painting.[4] In a country without museums specifically dedicated to modern and contemporary art, street art became a medium to portray pioneering works side by side with those of the youngest generation of painters and photographers. Street art was, for the first time, making it possible for art to reach unknown numbers – an unspecified audience, or public, who not only watched the walls as they were being transformed, but participated in that very change. In all, the interventions in public space portrayed mixed aesthetics, combined artistic expression with social and political commentary, and brought to the street snapshots, sequences of Yemeni art history.




The art campaigns initiated by Subay have radically and symbolically changed public space in urban centres of Yemen, namely Sana’a, turning the walls into memorial sites of struggle and public paintings into political awareness devices, making them, at times, reflect and refract collective action.[5] By referring to this now, my aim is to point out the dynamics affecting Yemeni art worlds[6] so as to explore how arts infrastructures were developed and used in Yemen before artistic practices took over street walls. Certainly, if young painters in their twenties find in public space and – more specifically -– the walls of the streets, possible canvases where they are able to reproduce old and new works, then it is certain that prevalent models of exhibition, valorisation, and recognition are being questioned as relatively obsolete.


However, it is important to note that street art is not the central focus of this essay. The case of Subay’s campaigns serves to point out ongoing questions about the dynamics of Yemen’s art infrastructures. I have written elsewhere about these street art campaigns, explaining more about how and when these practices emerged and how they differ from Arab and European street art, not to mention the ways they are similar (mainly during 2011) to Egyptian, Libyan or Bahraini street art. [7]


Indeed, street art has become rather visible in the international media, which has equally contributed to obscure the clearly different dynamics at play in the Yemeni case. Thus, in what follows, I will focus on describing the larger context from which these street art campaigns emerged. By contextualizing the emergence of artistic practices, my aim is to provide a rough cartography of arts infrastructures in Yemen.[8]




Although historicizing artistic practices in Yemen is limited here by space and scope, it is possible to highlight certain elements pertinent to providing a general image of Yemeni art history. In order to do so, it should be stressed that painting is certainly the most visible and recognized of all disciplines. Practised in the southern city of Aden since the 1930s and 1940s during the British occupation (1839–1967), and later developed in the northern cities of Taez and Sana’a[9] during the late 1960s and mainly the 1970s, painting has since occupied a central place in Yemeni visual arts. Today, sculpture and photography, though also pursued, remain relatively marginal in relation to painting, as also do installation and video art.


Since the first ‘clubs’ (s. nadi) of the 1930s and 1940s in Aden to the artistic associations of the 1950s, and to the establishment of the first spaces dedicated to  formalized learning, exhibition and commercialization of art in the late 1970s, very different initiatives structured the domain of the arts in Yemen such as workshops, institutes, artist studios, galleries and art departments at university and at non art-related museums (i.e: military museums). Most but not all of these initiatives participated in a process through which the arts were institutionalized – that is, regulated by the state. With different levels of intensity, the state established, intervened and incorporated art infrastructures at changing levels throughout the years. In this light, the state strongly mediated the art scene between the 1970s and until the 1990 unification, provoking a rich period of political art with trained painters producing posters for political parties or large canvases portraying political figures. From unification onwards and until 2002, followed a period marked by the retreat of the state from the artistic domain. A new phase of strong state intervention continued from 2002 until 2007, again followed by a new retreat. Intermittently, the state has played an important role in the establishment of institutions as well as in the education and professionalization of artists. As I illustrate in what follows, the fluctuating character of this intervention was equally marked by the emergence of independent and non-governmental initiatives, suggesting efforts being made towards a relatively more autonomous art scene.


This complex process started in the 1970s, linking the emergence of spaces where painting could be practised in a more independent manner, like in artist studios, to more or less formalized learning, like the state-run “free workshops”.[10] One example of the first type was the studio opened by Hashem Ali, which did not lead to any type of formal diploma but informally educated painters since the early 1970s.


The free workshop in Aden, 1978.
The free workshop in Aden, 1978.

The second type dates back to 1976 and was located in Aden. Known as the ‘Free workshop’ (al marsam al hurr), it was an initiative of the Ministry of Culture and Education of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen that became the first space that provided a diploma after three years of study. It started with a group of thirty to forty Yemeni students taught by the Egyptian artist Abdul Aziz Darwish, whom like many other foreigners was employed by the state within an effort to expand education. Organized as an evening workshop, it lasted until 1978, when art classes where also being taught at the state-run Jamil Ghanem Institute of Fine Arts by Egyptian, Palestinian, Iraqi and Russian teachers artists.


During the 1980s the artistic movement located in Aden grew and expanded, in part through the establishment of professional associations for artists. For instance, the Association of Young Plastic [artists] (jama’ia al tashkilin al shabab) included, at that time, eighty members whose works were exhibited in Yemen and outside the country. Also during this decade, a few independent commercial galleries like Gallery N°1, Colours, and Al Ameen Gallery, opened in Sana’a and Aden after the initiative of painters. They reflected on the need to commercialise art works while also signifying an expansion in the art scene in terms of adding independent spaces to the arts infrastructures.


Al Ameen Gallery in Aden, invitation to exhibition from 1986.
Al Ameen Gallery in Aden, invitation to exhibition from 1986.

It was also during these years that the largest group of Yemeni students to have studied abroad left the country to pursue Fine Arts-related degrees in the former Soviet Union.[11] Between the 1970s and the 1990s, state scholarships were provided to pursue such studies, both in former North and South Yemen, and students returned to Yemen after having earned qualifications ranging from Bachelor’s to Doctor of Philosophy degrees. The return of these students to Yemen around the time of the unification (1990) nourished a dynamic of nationalization affecting the domain of visual arts. Yemenis took over teaching jobs in Aden, Sana’a and later on, in the coastal city of Hodeidah.[12] Trained artists also worked in the art department of the military and national museums established during the 1960s in Aden and Taez and the 1980s in Sana’a,[13]which before and after unification made use of painting for political purposes.


Throughout the 1990s, ‘groups’ formed with large numbers of participants, generally more than ten and up to forty. These groups announced a feature in a period marked by a search, through collective efforts that were more or less independent from governmental resources, for better conditions that might alleviate reduced opportunities to exhibit and commercialise art works. Certain examples include the Group of Modern Art (jama’a al fann al hadith, 1990s) and the Cultural Circle al-Halaqa (jama’a al halaqa, 1996–2001). Other individual and collective initiatives emerged, taking the form of informal workshops to teach painting, such as the opening of Mohammed al-Yamani’s studio in Sana’a (1997–) and the establishment of non-governmental art spaces that combined exhibitions with art-related events and publications. Such was the case of Bayt al-Halaqa (1997–2001), an art space found by Dutch expatriates living in Sana’a, which was simultaneously a space for workshops and exhibitions linked to the group ‘Cultural Circle al-Halaqa’ with artists based in Sana’a, Aden and Taez, and a cultural publication, The Halaqa Journal (last issued in 2001). These types of initiatives reflected both, the diversification of spaces dedicated to visual arts as well as the search for independent networks, all triggered by a period marked by the retreat of the state.


Invitation catalogue of an exhibition of Yemeni painter Elham al Arashi in Moscow, 1990.
Invitation catalogue of an exhibition of Yemeni painter Elham al Arashi in Moscow, 1990.

In the 2000s, another type of group of artists emerged. Among the main features these new groups introduced, they differed from the groups of the 1990s by their reduced membership (usually less than six), which contrasted also with the large memberships characteristic of associations, syndicates and federations that previously grouped artists. Some of them also differed from previous groups, in the fact that they were female-only groups like Halat Lawniafrom Hodeidah (2005–) and a group yet without a name based in Aden (2010–). Some of these groups were also linked to the establishment of art spaces dedicated not only to exhibit and possibly sell their works, but also to entertain debates through the organization of weekly meetings, as was the case with Group of Contemporary Art, which established Atelier, an artist-run space locatedin the old city of Sana’a (2001–2009). These initiatives were a variation from similar ones attempted in the 1980s in the fact that they not only served to commercialize art works, like galleries do, but they reflected the need to tackle different purposes, like promote debate among artists and their public, create networks, showcase works, and propose informal learning to artists without a formal training in fine arts.


During the years 2000s, these groups of artists participate to the expansion of artistic networks, reflecting independent efforts that notwithstanding aim to better integrate and attain institutionally run spaces and opportunities. Such are the cases of the only-female groups from Hodeidah and Aden above mentioned, but also mixed ones like the Sanaani Group of Contemporary Art or only-male groups such as jama’a ruh al-fann (Art’s Spirit Group, 2005–2007) based in Aden.


Bayt al Halaqa and price list from the grand opening of Bayt al Halaqa in December 1997.
Bayt al Halaqa and price list from the grand opening of Bayt al Halaqa in December 1997.

From 2002 to 2007, another phase of institutionalization took place, this time through mainly fostering the establishment of art spaces dedicated to the exhibition and commercialization of art. Relatively decentralizing the artistic movement, which had until then been centred in the capital Sana’a, the Ministry of Culture established Houses of Art in different governorates[14] where permanent exhibitions and training workshops were organized, and where art works could be bought. Such efforts were successful at incorporating some of the young and emerging artists (below their thirties during these years) to state-run institutions and networks (i.e newly opened Houses of Art and exhibitions organized at the Houses of Culture). From 2008 onwards, the Ministry of Culture launched yearly international forums for plastic arts, which together with a state-run gallery opened in 2011 demonstrated an interest for the internationalization and commercialization of Yemeni art. These efforts apart, certain artists still describe the years that followed and led to the 2011 mobilizations and until 2014 by an again fluctuating retreat of the state. This perception is possibly due to the saturation of the state-run networks with always the same artists. Consequently, opportunities for independent experiences were again triggered and favoured by the experimental environment of revolutionary times. For instance, non-governmental multi-disciplinary spaces such as ‘The basement’ and the ‘Gallery Rauffa Hassan’ opened respectively in 2011 and 2013, mixing exhibitions with music concerts or poetry performances. Such spaces attracted young artists, among which those not included or not participant to state-run networks found different possibilities for visibility and recognition. It is during this relatively more independent and experimental phase that Murad Subay took over the streets to put his paintings on the walls and outside the market and the state-run spaces.




As is evident in the case of the street art campaigns undertaken by Murad Subay, the period that followed the contentious mobilizations that spread throughout the country in 2011 have also affected the domain of visual arts. In the same way that the mobilizations unleashed political creativity, they also created a safe environment where different kinds of social experiments could be tried. Subay’s street art campaigns are one of such experiments.


Invitation catalogue to an exhibition organized by the French Cultural Centre in Sana’a, featuring the Group of Contemporary art, 2008.
Invitation catalogue to an exhibition organized by the French Cultural Centre in Sana’a, featuring the Group of Contemporary art, 2008.

As I have briefly explained, arts infrastructures have developed in Yemen not only through a process defined and directed by the state. Individual and collective non-governmental initiatives have also structured Yemeni art worlds. Nevertheless, both these realms were disrupted with Subay’s campaigns. This is because, although organized independently from governmental infrastructures, independent initiatives have seldom aimed at proposing an alternative to institutional artistic networks. In other words, art spaces or groups created with a will to obtain more autonomy from the state have rarely been established in order to counter governmental initiatives. On the contrary, they have produced ways to better compete, integrate and participate in those institutional networks of exhibitions, commercialisation, and in general, opportunities of visibility and recognition.


What Murad Subay’s campaigns introduced was a sort of break from these dynamics: by placing art expression on the street and by provoking participation from artists but not limited to them, he has disrupted modes of exhibition-making, not to mention art’s interaction with audiences. Most importantly, he has placed art works outside the market. These ruptures from the ways in which art has been displayed and recognized until 2011, has introduced a type of art that is extremely public, given the work is being shown on the streets and is thus accessible by anyone, free of any entry fee, and thus open to anyone. Audiences have turned into possible participants, and streets into open museums and galleries.


Given how different art initiatives such as multidisciplinary exhibition spaces and installations on the streets have been undertaken by different actors after 2011 and mostly also in their twenties, Subay’s campaigns have been successful at attaining a visibility unprecedented for any art initiative taking place in Yemen. Inscribing this painter’s campaign into a historicized context allows the opportunity to think about what kind of histories – understood both as narratives and as historical accounts – are put forward in a global context, where artistic practices of peripheral countries such as Yemen unfortunately remain invisible.



[1] He formally retained power since 1978, when he became president of the former Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). Upon the unification of 1990, he became president of the current Republic of Yemen (ROY) until 2012.

[2] Murad Subay developed three collective campaigns (s. hamla, pl. hamlat) in Sana’a between March 2012 and May 2014: « Color the walls of your street », « The walls remember their faces », and « 12 hours ». Besides these campaigns, he has also wheat-pasted photographs realized by one of his brothers. Refer to Murad Subay’s blog for short documentaries, articles, interviews and photographs of these campaigns:

[3] There are several spaces dedicated to visual arts in the capital, Sana’a, both state-run and independent. Among the state-run: the House of Culture hosts temporary exhibitions while permanent ones can be viewed at the House of Art where paintings can also be bought; the National Museum in collaboration with European cultural institutions has hosted a number of art exhibitions and installations, and the Sana’a Gallery located whithin the main building of the Ministry of Culture besides exhibiting also comercializes art works. Whithin the framework of cultural cooperation, European cultural centers also organize temporary exhibitions. Some of the independent initiatives that opened in the last five years include Kawn Foundation, the Basement, Gallery Rauffa Hassan and Reemart Gallery.

[4] Called “Colors of life”, this artistic action took started possibly in May or July 2012 in Taez. For a brief explanation and images refer to and, last accessed on June 3, 2014. In Taez, certain images were vandalized with black painting.

[5] Mainly in a chapter under publication and presented at the symposium “The Revolutionary Public Sphere: Aesthetics, Poetics & Politics”, organized by the Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication (PARGC) at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, April 2014. For shorter analysis refer to my chapter « Les murs prennent la parole. Street art révolutionnaire au Yémen», inJeunesses arabes. Loisirs, cultures et politique, Laurent Bonnefoy and Myriam Catusse (dir.), La Découverte, Paris, 2013, “Mobiliser et sensibiliser à travers le street art au Yémen”, in 34 Short Stories, Bétonsalon-Centre d’art et de recherche et les Editions de Beaux-Arts de Paris, Paris, forthcoming in 2014, and

[6] Contrary to an individualistic conception of the artist and the art works, sociologist Howard S. Becker proposes a collective approach: “art worlds consist of all the people whose activities are necessary to the production of the characteristic works which that world, and perhaps others as well, define as art […] We can think of an art world as an established network of cooperative links among participants […] Works of art, from this point of view, are not the products of individual makers, ‘artists’ who possess a rare and special gift. They are, rather, joint products of all the people who cooperate via an art world’s characteristic conventions to bring works like that into existence”. H. S. Becker, Art Worlds, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1982 (2008), pp. 34-35.

[7] Mainly in a chapter under publication and presented at the symposium “The Revolutionary Public Sphere: Aesthetics, Poetics & Politics”, organized by the Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication (PARGC) at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, April 2014. For shorter analysis refer to my chapter « Les murs prennent la parole. Street art révolutionnaire au Yémen», inJeunesses arabes. Loisirs, cultures et politique, Laurent Bonnefoy and Myriam Catusse (dir.), La Découverte, Paris, 2013, “Mobiliser et sensibiliser à travers le street art au Yémen”, in 34 Short Stories, Bétonsalon-Centre d’art et de recherche et les Editions de Beaux-Arts de Paris, Paris, forthcoming in 2014, and

[8] I conducted my doctoral research in Yemen from May 2008 until March 2011.

[9] Until the unification of 1990, Yemen was divided into two separate states. The Yemen Arab Republic, in the northern part of the country, was established in 1962 and marked the end of the Zaydi Imamate, which also coincided between 1839-1918 with the Ottoman occupation. The south, divided in 25 sultanates and sheykhasthat during 128 years were grouped into two protectorates, was occupied by the British until 1967. Until unification, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen represented the only Arab regime of the region explicitly Marxist.

[10] Translated as “the Free Atelier” or “the Open Studio”, such workshops also emerged during the 1960s in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, for instance in Kuwait or Qatar, and were also state-run initiatives. On Kuwait see for instance Fatima al Qadiri and Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, “Farida Al Sultan”, Bidoun, Spring 2010, pp. 42-45. The catalogue Swalif. Qatari art between memory and modernity published by the Mathaf museum in 2011 also mentions them on the glossary in p. 24.

[11] For a detailed analysis of this group, refer to my article « Impact of transnational experiences: the case of Yemeni artists in the Soviet Union », Chroniques Yéménites, N° 17, 2013.

[12] The University of Hodeidah, located in the Red Sea coast, is the only public university in the entire country to offer the possibility to study visual arts since the late 1990s.

[13] Museums from the former South were looted during the short war of 1994 (May 5 to July 7), where the armies of the former nothern and southern states confronted each other. For a study of museums in Yemen refer to Gregoire Nicolet’s master thesis Les musées du Yémen. Développement et enjeux de l’institution, Mémoire de DESS : Mondes arabes, mondes musulmans contemporains, Geneva, 2007.

[14] Sanaa, Dhamar, Ibb, Yarîm, Hodeidah and Aden among them.

Continue reading “MAKING STORIES VISIBLE, A YEMENI ART HISTORY\ By: Anahi Alviso-Marino”

Photogallery for “12 Hours” graffiti camapaign “Child Recruitment”

معرض صور عن حملة “12 ساعة”، على الموقع الإسباني “El Nuevo Herald”، ضمن ساعتها التاسعة ” تجنيد الأطفال”. الصور من الوكالة الأوروبية و تصوير: يحيى عرهب.

Photogallery for “12 Hours” graffiti camapaign, in the 9th Hour “Child Recruitment” on the Spanish website “El Nuevo Herald”. Photo by: Yahya Arhab \EPA

Un artista yemení pinta un grafiti en el que se muestra un niño soldado con motivo de una campaña para acabar con el reclutamiento y el uso de los niños en los conflictos en Saná, Yemen, hoy, jueves 10 de abril del 2014. Varios artistas yemeníes lanzaron una campaña para acabar con el reclutamiento de las milicias y los grupos rebeldes de los niños soldado para los confictos del país. YAHYA ARHAB / EFE

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Jeunesses arabes

الشباب العربي ” كتاب باللغة الفرنسية يتضمن فصل بعنوان “الجدران تتكلم،  شارع الفن الثوري في اليمن، تتحدث فيه الكاتبة الإرجنتينية “أناهي ألفيسوا مارينوا” عن الحركة الفنية في الشارع اليمني عبر حملات الفن الجرافيتية.

المصدر: “الشباب العربي، الدكتوره/ أناهي الفيسوا مارينوا

Jeunesses arabes” Book Les murs prennent la parole Street art révolutionnaire au Yémen Source:”Jeunesses arabes”, Dr.Anahi Alviso-Marino




Les murs prennent la parole
Street art révolutionnaire au Yémen
Anahi Alviso-Marino

Début 2011, à Sanaa comme dans les grandes villes du Yémen, les mobilisations
appelant au départ du président Ali Abdallah Saleh ont rapidement pris la forme d’une
occupation permanente de l’espace public. Des sit-ins et des campements de révolutionnaires
sont créés dont certains perdurent encore en 2013, alors même que Saleh a
formellement quitté le pouvoir en février 2012. La Place du Changement (sahat altaghyir),
en face de l’université de Sanaa, devient un laboratoire politique, social mais
aussi culturel, occupé entre autres par des artistes qui s’installent dans les tentes et
dont les pratiques prennent une nouvelle visibilité au coeur de la contestation.
Le street art, que ses protagonistes définissent comme l’usage de diverses techniques
artistiques sur et dans l’espace public sans autorisation préalable, tout comme la
photographie ou la peinture, s’imprègne du contexte révolutionnaire et contribuent à
traduire visuellement des revendications politiques. Ces pratiques se révèlent néanmoins
plus ou moins sujettes à l’expérimentation. L’art pictural et la photographie par
exemple semblent se conformer avant tout aux attentes des médias et du public étrangers.
D’autres, comme les graffitis, les pochoirs ou la peinture murale, techniques propres
au street art, s’affichent d’emblée comme moyen de transgressions artistiques et
politiques, contrevenant à l’esthétique qui jusque-là s’imposait au Yémen. En cela, ils
participent à la désobéissance civile en prolongeant l’occupation non seulement spatiale
mais aussi visuelle des rues et des murs. Progressivement, ce street art contestataire
signale les murs de Sanaa comme centre d’intérêt où se mêlent pratiques ludiques,
artistiques et politiques. Ainsi, en mars 2012 et au croisement des rues Zubayri et
Da’iri à Sanaa, à l’initiative d’un jeune plasticien, Murad Subay‘, des peintres, des
amateurs et de simples citoyens se joignent au projet de peindre les murs de leurs rues.
Ce chapitre interroge ces jeux de bascule entre loisirs, occupations professionnelles et
engagement politique, sur ces murs qui prennent la parole.
Basculement esthétique et politique
Quand les premières tentes sont plantées par les révolutionnaires à même le bitume
en février 2011, des peintres et des photographes de moins de trente ans se trouvent
parmi les premiers « sit-inners » (mu’tasimin) de la Place du Changement de Sanaa.
Malgré son caractère moins instantané que la photographie, rapidement sur Internet, la
peinture participe aussi à la formulation et à la propagation de revendications politiques,
lui conférant une dimension artistique singulière. Non seulement ces productions
s’affichent sur les murs, mais, sous les tentes, des ateliers de peinture sont organisés,
ainsi que des expositions de tableaux, de photographies, d’affiches et de caricatures.
L’art de la peinture n’est pas nouveau au Yémen. Depuis les années 1930, la discipline
s’est progressivement installée, notamment à Aden, puis à Taez et à Sanaa, sur
un marché dominé par l’État et influencé par la demande étrangère. Les jeunes peintres
qui commencent à exposer leur travail dans les années 2000 et qui participent aux
mobilisations contestataires de 2011 sont héritiers de cette histoire et de l’esthétique
qui l’accompagne. Dans le sillage des premiers peintres yéménites, ils font écho à un
art d’esthétique orientaliste (privilégiant l’exotisme des scènes de vie, des paysages ou
des portraits de femmes) que leurs prédécesseurs ont « indigénisé » pour montrer un
art profondément yéménite. Tout en essayant de s’autonomiser d’un État qui se désintéressa,
après l’unification de 1990, du domaine culturel, les artistes plasticiens parvinrent
à s’inscrire dans les mondes de production, de vente, d’exposition et de diffusion
adaptés aux goûts des Occidentaux afin de vivre de leur art. Ceci influença leur travail
et l’éloigna dans une certaine mesure de sujets politiques en lien direct avec
l’idéologie de l’État. Ces dynamiques qui ont modelé le travail des artistes plus âgés,
ont été héritées par les jeunes peintres qui commencent à exposer leur travail dans les
années 2000. L’émergence d’un nouveau groupe d’artistes marque à cette époque une
légère rupture avec l’esthétique orientaliste. Une production influencée par l’art abstrait
et le surréalisme mais aussi par une critique politique dissimulée pour contourner
la censure ou la répression se développa.
Avec ce bagage et quelques expériences orientées vers la recherche de sujets et
d’esthétiques différents, une partie des jeunes artistes s’engagea dans le projet de
changer leur pays au début de 2011. Parmi eux, des artistes qui occupent une position
légèrement marginale dans le milieu des arts. Bien qu’en contact régulier avec des
étrangers installés au Yémen, ils sont rarement invités à exposer dans les centres culturels
européens ou soutenus par les rares institutions gouvernementales consacrées à
l’art. Cette position leur permet de se mettre à distance des esthétiques dominantes.
Les nouveaux apprentissages politiques développés sous les tentes de la Place du
Changement à Sanaa ont mis quelque temps à quitter cet espace. Le projet de street art
initié par Murad Subay‘ en mars 2012 a fonctionné comme un catalyseur. En bousculant
les esthétiques dominantes et en captant l’attention médiatique, il entendait se
propager dans toute la ville en dehors de l’espace purement contestataire. Certes, le
street art n’était pas totalement inédit dans les grandes villes yéménites, mais n’était
jamais formulé pour ce qu’il est, « un art non autorisé dans l’espace public ». Les graffitis,
les pochoirs ou l’écriture libre sur les murs se pratiquaient notamment dans leurs
déclinaisons religieuses pour reproduire à l’infini que « Dieu est grand » ou qu’« il n’y
a pas d’autre dieu que Dieu », pour faire parler les murs avec les slogans de partis politiques
ou, plus récemment, pour reproduire des signatures ou « tags » écrits en caractères
latins. Mais le contexte révolutionnaire fait basculer Murad dans un projet plus
abstrait et en lien avec des pratiques de désobéissance civile pacifiste. La contestation
de 2011 a débridé les énergies et la créativité : les murs aux alentours de la Place du
Changement sont couverts de « dégage » (irhal) en arabe et en anglais, ou font un clin
d’oeil à Facebook en reproduisant un onglet « Révolution yéménite » avec une flèche
prête à donner le « OK », à l’option « effacer Ali Abdallah Saleh ». Cette appropriation
spontanée des murs n’est qu’une déclinaison des slogans et du projet politique qui
s’élaborent sous les tentes de la Place. Le projet de street art de Murad, lancé par un
appel sur sa page Facebook, doit permettre de sortir de cette reproduction et, sans
rompre pourtant avec une sorte de pratique politique qui se fait dans et à partir de la
rue, de laisser l’art prendre son indépendance.
L’appel de Murad Subay‘ : « Colorie les murs de ta rue ! »
Étudiant de philologie anglaise à l’université de Sanaa, Murad Subay‘, né en 1987,
s’est formé à la peinture en autodidacte. Sans faire partie des cercles habituels des
peintres yéménites de moins de trente ans qui exposent régulièrement, il pratiquait la
peinture en parallèle. Issu d’une famille modeste (son père travaille dans le bâtiment
en Arabie Saoudite), il a été élevé par sa mère dans son village, puis en ville, et fut
grandement influencé par ses frères aînés. Tous deux ont versé avec succès dans
l’univers des arts au sortir de l’adolescence : la poésie pour le premier, la photographie
pour le second. Ayant publié certaines reproductions de ses toiles abstraites dans des
publications culturelles comme le prestigieux trimestriel omanais Nizwa, Murad trouve
en 2012 avec son projet d’amener l’art dans les rues une façon de rendre visible son
travail tout en poussant jusqu’à son terme une expression artistique innovante qui se
place au carrefour du loisir, de l’engagement et du projet professionnel.
Quand quelques dizaines de jeunes décident de camper aux portes de l’université
mi-février 2011, Murad se trouve parmi eux. Il est immédiatement volontaire pour
surveiller les entrées du nouvel espace occupé afin de garantir le caractère pacifique du
sit-in. C’est ainsi qu’il apprend par la désobéissance civile une nouvelle façon de faire
de la politique qui, très vite, aura des répercussions sur pratique artistique. Alors qu’il
habite non loin du campement, il passe ses journées sur la Place du Changement, y
reste de nombreuses nuits. Alors qu’il travaillait essentiellement l’art abstrait avec la
peinture acrylique sur toile, il découvre – en s’informant principalement sur Internet –
les techniques du graffiti, du pochoir (stencil), du collage de photographies et de la
peinture murale.
Sans avoir jamais exposé son travail, car il considérait qu’il n’était pas encore prêt,
mais fort des réseaux qu’il est parvenu à tisser sur la Place, il décide de lancer un appel
sur Facebook qu’il intitule « colorie le mur de ta rue » (lawun jidar shari‘ak). Quand,
en mars 2012, il commence effectivement à faire de la peinture sur les murs de la ville
de Sanaa, il le fait en reproduisant ses propres créations autrefois confinées à une toile.
Des silhouettes blanches de mains sur fond noir ou des visages carrés emboîtés comme
s’il s’agissait de pièces d’un puzzle apparaissent ainsi sur les murs, toutes accompagnées
de sa signature facilement lisible et de la date de la création ainsi qu’on le fait
sur un tableau. Progressivement, ses peintures se transforment en oeuvres d’art publiques
et accessibles, et inspirent d’autres artistes qui suivent son modèle.
Le projet est un succès. Repris par un nombre croissant de peintres et de simples citoyens,
il trouve un fort écho médiatique. Rapidement, les grandes toiles que sont les
murs lui servent à poursuivre des expériences esthétiques nouvelles et à répandre une
façon transgressive de faire de l’art dans l’espace public. Cette occupation de l’espace
et des murs tout comme l’emplacement du projet permettent de le mettre en lien avec
l’engagement politique. Non seulement la réappropriation de l’espace est une pratique
apprise au coeur du sit-in, mais le choix des murs peints ne peut être politiquement
neutre : sur Facebook, Murad propose d’orner les murs d’un carrefour de rues où de
nombreux combats ont eu lieu en 2011 entre les forces spéciales du gouvernement de
Saleh et ceux qui se proclament « armée de la révolution ». Ce sont les murs de ces
rues que la peinture allait redéfinir sans effacer les impacts de balles, pour ne pas oublier.
Comme Murad Subay‘ l’explique, il s’agissait d’apporter de l’espoir dans un
environnement marqué par la violence et la lutte politique mais aussi, d’embellir la
ville, de colorier ses murs portant les stigmates d’une politique « dégoûtante » (qadhara).
D’abord seul, il est rejoint par des passants, des citoyens, peintres ou non. Un grand
nombre d’images abstraites commencent ainsi à peupler les murs de Sanaa. Parmi elles,
des visages géants dessinés en lignes droites ou des listes d’anciens noms yéménites
en alphabet sud-arabique utilisé dans l’Antiquité. À côté de ces images, d’autres
portent un message très clair de critique politique et sociale comme celles d’un enfant
en train de mettre le feu à une arme ou d’un dessin accompagné de ces mots en anglais
« je n’ai pas de travail ». Ce projet, que Murad définit comme apolitique, s’éloigne
effectivement de la politique institutionnelle et partisane, mais ancre aussi dans la rue
une pratique participative de critiques sociales et politiques. Cette politique par le bas,
dans l’espace public, s’est accompagnée d’un renouvellement artistique. Il s’agit de
provoquer la curiosité des passants, d’attirer leur regard, et d’induire une nouvelle façon
d’observer l’espace. Murad Subay‘ avait, dès le début, signé les murs de la même
façon qu’il signait ses toiles, un élément qui le singularise du street art européen, nord
et sud américain où l’anonymat est presque essentiel en raison de l’illégalité de la pratique.
En période de soulèvement révolutionnaire, cette précaution était inutile. Signant
ses oeuvres, Murad changeait symboliquement la portée d’une pratique, en
même temps qu’il se faisait un nom. Des médias (télévision et presse yéménites et
étrangères) s’emparent de ces murs pour leur donner – ainsi qu’au projet de Murad
Subay‘, et à sa signature – une visibilité inédite. En dépit de cette notoriété croissante,
Murad continue toutefois à refuser toute commercialisation de son art.
« Quelqu’un doit faire le premier pas »
Ses peintures, à la brosse et au spray qu’il achète avec son argent ou avec l’aide de
ceux qui soutiennent son initiative (sa famille, ses amis), Murad les mélange pendant
l’été 2012 à des collages de photographies, une autre technique très répandue dans le
street art et inexistante jusqu’alors au Yémen. Si les murs du premier projet de Murad
Subay‘ n’étaient pas politiquement neutres, les images qu’il colle dans cette deuxième
initiative le sont encore moins : il s’agit de photographies réalisées par son frère aîné,
Jamil Subay‘, chargées d’une critique sociale et politique toute caractéristique. Certaines
de ces images avaient déjà servi dans différentes publications et expositions pour
interroger la pauvreté, l’exclusion ou la guerre et leur quasi-occultation face au regard
des Yéménites qui se détournaient facilement vers des sujets internationaux, comme le
soutien à la Palestine. Les murs de la ville, repensés par le projet, avaient acquis une
visibilité qui pouvait offrir aux photographies de Jamil Subay‘ le médium parfait pour
reprendre ces images et rendre ces réalités, toujours valables, plus visibles que jamais
aux yeux des Yéménites. Parmi les images « empruntées » à Jamil, l’une d’elles montre
un balayeur (appartenant au groupe social des akhdam – littéralement serviteurs,
originaires d’Afrique) qui entretient les rues de la capitale. Murad l’a choisie pour témoigner
de sa solidarité envers ces derniers, alors qu’ils faisaient grève. Une autre
image représente un homme portant un bouquet de fleurs d’aloès (kadhi), collée sur les
murs du Collège de la Police suite à un attentat dans ces lieux. Il voulait ainsi « offrir
un cadeau aux âmes des morts, comme on offre des fleurs lors des funérailles ».
Si ce projet l’initie au mélange de disciplines artistiques, à la recherche et à l’usage
de techniques diverses du street art, il le rapproche aussi d’un discours de plus en plus
ouvertement en lien avec des sujets politiques. Ainsi, en est-il de son projet suivant,
réalisé en septembre 2012 grâce à la technique du pochoir. Conçu, selon ses mots,
comme une « campagne », annoncé une nouvelle fois sur Facebook et intitulé « les
murs se souviennent de leurs visages » (al-judran tatadhakar wajuhahum), ce projet
consiste à reproduire le visage d’activistes politiques, d’écrivains, de journalistes, de
membres de partis, et de personnes parfois sans engagements politiques que les autorités
sont suspectées d’avoir enlevées ou éliminées sous le régime de Saleh. Dans ses
pochoirs, l’image du visage du disparu est accompagnée d’un texte en arabe et en anglais
où se lit le nom de la personne, la mention « disparition forcée », et la date de
celle-ci. Conscient de la portée politique de ces images et des problèmes auxquels il
s’expose, il se décide car « quelqu’un doit faire le premier pas ». Il ne signe pas ces
pochoirs et, au début de la campagne, les réalise tôt le matin quand le risque d’être vu
est minime. Il continue pourtant à être interviewé par des chaînes de télévision face
auxquelles il explique ouvertement son projet. Cette visibilité, acquise lors de sa première
campagne, lui offre certaines ressources comme la reconnaissance et le soutien
populaire, inscrivant sa démarche dans une continuité artistique de plus en plus contestataire.
Bien que cette pratique ne le fasse pas vivre matériellement, elle lui offre des
rétributions valorisantes et l’occasion de contribuer à faire entendre la cause qu’il défend.
En l’occurrence, la ministre des Droits de l’Homme se saisit de la question, fait
ouvrir un registre de déclaration de « disparitions » et annonce la formation d’un comité
en charge du problème des personnes disparues.
L’idée de Murad Subay‘ de faire du street art a fini par se répandre non seulement
dans la capitale mais dans d’autres villes du pays comme Taez, Ibb ou Aden. Peintres,
écrivains, activistes ou simples citoyens de passage, colorient les murs ou l’aident à
reproduire des pochoirs, rendant non seulement l’art visible et accessible à tous, mais
laissant aussi sur les murs des images à fort contenu politique.
Dans la cité, hors du marché
Les campagnes de Murad Subay‘ sont révélatrices de nouvelles formes
d’engagement artistiques et politiques parmi les jeunes yéménites. Dans le contexte
révolutionnaire, devant l’urgence et la nécessité, les loisirs basculent vers la politique,
l’art vers un art engagé. Ainsi s’ajustent et se transforment les arts visuels yéménites.
La difficulté d’accéder au marché et à la reconnaissance professionnelle pour certains
jeunes artistes qui, comme Murad, ne font pas partie des réseaux d’artistes institutionnalisés
explique partiellement la rupture provoquée par la réappropriation des murs de
la rue et leur usage comme toiles et lieux d’exposition. S’il ne vivait pas de son art
avant ces campagnes, Murad ne le fait non plus une fois la reconnaissance acquise.
Son positionnement affiché de « changer la société » par l’art est employé pour évacuer
la question financière : en mettant son travail volontairement sur les murs, dans la
cité et donc hors du marché, il maintient l’indépendance nécessaire pour pouvoir faire
un art engagé selon ses propres conditions. D’abord utilisés pour reproduire ses propres
peintures tout en encourageant à rendre visibles les aptitudes artistiques d’autres
artistes et amateurs, les murs choisis par Murad deviennent progressivement un lieu
d’expression, d’émancipation et d’affirmation d’un soi artistique mais aussi politique.
Ce choix, de lieux et de techniques, pour faire un art avant tout public et gratuit, révèle
une démarche qui ne cherche pas nécessairement à être commercialisable. Cet aspect,
qui a toujours été au coeur du street art et qui aujourd’hui est devenu un sujet de débat,
voire de controverse, sur la scène mondiale, est largement contourné dans le cas de
Murad. Pourtant, dans un pays où même les peintres les plus reconnus sont loin de
vivre exclusivement de leur art, faire de l’art sans espérer une rétribution économique
fait partie de la démarche de la plupart des artistes visuels et notamment des plus jeunes
d’entre eux. En ce sens, la démarche de Murad ne se démarque pas plus que cela
de son contexte artistique et générationnel. Il s’agit, enfin, d’une nouvelle forme
d’expression qui signifie une rupture au niveau esthétique et disciplinaire qui montre
que d’autres façons de faire de l’art, d’exposer et de s’exprimer sont possibles.
Pour en savoir plus
Anahi ALVISO-MARINO, « Transformations dans l’art moderne et contemporain au
Yémen », in Laurent BONNEFOY, Franck MERMIER et Marine POIRIER (dir.), Yémen.
Le tournant révolutionnaire, Karthala, Paris, 2012, p. 305-319.
Jessie WENDER, « Postcards from Yemen : Words of Eyes »,
<>, 21 avril 2011.
Vidéos : AFP, « Yémen : des graffitis pour oublier la politique », 3 avril 2012 (disponible
sur >); « Les murs se souviennent », reportage réalisé par
Benjamin Wiacek, disponible sur <http://benjaminwiacek. com>