Travel & Tourism

Graffiti Campaigns Reflect Yemenis’ Hopes

National Yemen

By Tamjid Alkohali

The continuation of conflicts between political parties in Yemen as well as the worsening of the situation under the Houthis’ control didn’t prevent Murad Subay and Thi Yazen al-Alawi, along with a group of youth artists, from launching graffiti campaigns around Sana’a.

On the third anniversary of the first graffiti campaign “Color the Wall of Your Street”, launched by Murad Subay after the 2012 conflicts in Sana’a, women and men, young and old, went out for an open day for drawing under the slogan “Human and Art Day” to express their love for life, the homeland, beauty, art and also their fear of the expected civil war.

Yemenis gathered on Haddah Street in Central Sana’a on March 15th, 2015 in response to Murad Subay’s call through the social networking sites. About 25 walls were beautifully decorated.

The “Color the Wall of Your Street” campaign was launched in 2011 aiming  to erase political slogans expressing feelings of hatred and verbal violence and to cover the war’s remnants in areas that were most affected by it. Graffiti has become an influential art that has won the admiration of many people inside and outside Yemen and made people aware of different issues of the country.

In 2014, Subay won the Art for Peace prize, awarded by the Veronese Italian Foundation, and his  campaign was ranked fifth around the world of projects that have sparked change. He has won the attention of the local and foreign media.

With regard to the “Human And Art Day”, Subay said that in these difficult circumstances that people live in currently, he hesitated to invite people to revive the third anniversary of the campaign. “I was afraid that the latest events have ended the rest of people’s optimism. Fortunately, I was wrong. I found my friends and many artists waiting in the first rows and before the time as well as many people of different ages. Even children came to participate and express their love for this homeland,” Subay added.

Three years have passed since launching the “Color the Wall of Your Street” campaign. During this period, Yemen has passed through a difficult political stage and people have suffered from instability and the deterioration of the economic situation.

Subay said that people are facing this suffering with optimism sometimes and pessimism other times, but their participation in graffiti campaigns indicates their insistence and hope to achieve their dream of a civil state.

The graffiti campaigns are launched with artists’ self-support. Subay says that he avoids receiving support from organizations and influential people in order to not make the campaigns belong to any party and also to be free to discuss themes that reflect the reality of Yemen.

Despite making a great effort in these campaigns and spending from their own money, some parties don’t appreciate their work and attack them by removing the drawings.

“We haven’t received any threat from any party because it’s clear that these campaigns are for the people and have no other purpose, but sometimes the graphics are erased like what happened with the” Walls to Remember Their Faces” campaign because it touched sensitive issue, which is politicians and people who were forcibly disappeared,” Subay said.

In the graffiti campaigns, Subay and other artists use stencils, an art invented by the French artist Kazavier Pro in 1981 that became famous in 1985. The campaigns address different issues.

Many graffiti campaigns have lunched after the “Color the Wall of Your Street” campaign and have spread to other provinces. However, the most famous are those lunched by Subay and the young artist al-Alawi with the help of other artists.

There are now five campaigns. The second campaign was launched in 2012 and called “Walls to Remember Their Faces,” and consisted of art of politicians, military officials, and regular citizens who disappeared during the period of authoritarian rule, with their fate still unknown. In that campaign, Subay drew their faces with the date and place of their enforced disappearance in both Arabic and English.

In 2013, Subay began his third campaign “12 Hours” where he and many other artists dedicated 12 hours every week to discuss issues like sectarianism, human rights, and drone strikes, as well as drawing the faces of the 56 victims of the compound of the Ministry of Defense and Al-Aordi killed in December 2013. The campaign lasted for a year and was classified by an American researcher as one of the most important works in the world for political change.

The fourth campaign is the “Dawn Sculptures” campaign that was launched in January 18th, 2015 and is still in its infancy.

The “Caricatures of the Street” campaign was launched on August 14th, 2014 and headed by artist Thi Yazen al-Alawi. The campaign aims to take caricatures from newspapers and magazines to the street. It is still continuing and participants discuss political, social, and human rights issues. It is characterized by candor, simplicity and a focus on highlighting local imagery using common clothing and facial features.