SANA’A – A few years ago, street artist Murad Subay emerged as one of the best in his field in Yemen. Subay uses graffiti to reflect on the tragedy in Yemen and, since the beginning of the war three years ago, the 31-year-old artist has organised street art campaigns to express to the world his country’s pain.
The various parties in the Yemeni conflict have tried to silence opposing voices in Yemen. Subay, however, could not quiet the artist inside him. He explained that he “uses graffiti to express the artist’s opinion about Yemeni affairs, especially during these tough times of war.”
“We try, through art, to depict our conditions during the war and at the same time give a concrete form to the role of art in the current conflict,” he said.
“If art cannot be present to speak for the people during war conditions, when should it appear then?”
“The symbolic significance of having art present during the current conditions, especially graffiti, lies in its being very close to people. They can actually touch it and they can see it on their way to work or to school and during their other errands,” he said.
Through murals and graffiti, Subay has dealt with many important issues facing Yemen, especially sectarianism. In May 2015, he began his fifth art campaign, which he called “Ruins.” People and other artists were invited to take part in the campaigns. Most of the street art campaigns started by Subay, either inside or outside Yemen, focused on peace for Yemen.
Subay has expanded his artistic activities and campaigns to other cities in Yemen. The artist and his friends are active in Sana’a, Aden, Taiz, Ma’rib, Ibb and Hodeidah. Artist friends of Subay’s in Seoul, Paris and Madagascar have taken part in the campaigns.
Subay said that, last November, he initiated a murals campaign in Hodeidah that he called “Faces of the War” because, as he put it, “the city was systematically being left neglected and its inhabitants left in hunger, poverty and disease.”
Subay completed other murals in Sana’a this year. They address the effects of war on people’s lives. Subay insisted that his main message through his art is that warfare is not just machine guns and explosives. It touches people in many other ways.
“I wanted to depict war in the way it affects people,” Subay explained. The horror of war is apparent in his murals through the subjects’ hollow eyes or bones showing through their skin or their emaciated faces.
Subay said he is deeply saddened whenever the subject of the effects of the war on his life and that of the Yemenis is brought up. “The war makes us lose our dreams, our hopes, our life and our soul as well,” he said.
Subay decried the absence of tolerance for the differences of opinion and lack of freedom of expression. “I practise my art in a context full of fear. Each party dominating a region in Yemen believes only in its voice,” Subay explained.
He said he plans to continue depicting people’s concerns and hopes through art campaigns across Yemen. He said he was happy to see that “young people have started to come out of their homes and paint about their concerns.”
“People have started using peaceful and artistic means to talk about their problems and this is great. It is a sign that the Yemenis are indeed people with deep civilisational roots,” Subay said.