The walls remember their faces
The street artist capturing the impact of the war in Yemen
Using stencils and spray paint, Murad Subay creates haunting figures, portraits and motifs
FREQUENT VISITORS to the skatepark on London’s South Bank may have noticed two new works of art among the decades-old graffiti. Both spray-painted in black and white, one image depicts a naked and emaciated mother clutching a newborn; another shows a starving boy, his hair on end, listlessly picking at his hands. Entitled “Hollowed Mother” and “Lost Generation” (pictured), the figures are cadaverous and haunting, with dark empty holes where their eyes should be.
Similar works of street art can be found in Hodeida and Sana’a, cities in Yemen: on the wreck of a door, now in a garbage dump, or on the last standing wall of a house reduced to rubble. “Faces of War”, a project by Murad Subay, a Yemeni artist, seeks to draw attention to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Since the outbreak of civil war in 2014 between Houthi rebels, a Shia militia backed by Iran, and government forces, backed by Saudi Arabia, the water, power, health-care and education systems have failed. The country has suffered the worst cholera outbreak in modern history and faces famine. The United Nations estimates that three-quarters of the population of 28m need some sort of assistance.
Mr Subay’s works convey this desperation. “Devoured”, (pictured below) an installation commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, depicts a skeletal, one-armed man with the same cavernous eyes as the mother and boy in South Bank. He sits, cross-legged, biting into himself; a crow perched on one knee pecks at his gaunt thigh. The image calls forth “The vulture and the little girl”, a Pulitzer prizewinning photograph taken by Kevin Carter in 1993, of a starving Sudanese child (actually a boy) and a vulture stalking close by. (The memory haunted Carter, who took his own life the next year.)