Walls no longer silent, speak of life

National Yemen

Noha Naif, Graphic designer

By: Asma Al-mohattwari

While Yemen’s youth revolution spurred change over the past year and more, it was also at the center of protests, political tensions, and armed clashes throughout the nation. Whether in direct response to the revolution or not, such clashes resulted in a great deal of damage in Sana’a, with many houses, walls and private and public property left destroyed.

Recently some Yemenis, bothered and distracted by such scenes of destruction, started to make a change in Sana’a by drawing and painting on walls on streets, and surrounding houses and schools.

Yemeni youths have used the medium of graffiti to cover walls in public spaces without any obstruction from the government. The term ‘graffiti’ includes words or pictures that are written or drawn in public places – on walls, for example. Recognized as having been first used decades ago in America, youths in Sana’a have recently begun to see in graffiti a means to change their surroundings for the better.

It was a Yemeni artist named Murad Subai who started a creative initiative named ‘Color the Walls on Your Street’ to promote the use of art to rehabilitate yesterday’s conflict areas.

Murad created a Facebook group and used it to invite others to join him in adding color to walls in damaged areas. He spent one week painting walls alone before he was joined by others.

“The goal of this initiative is to make art the common denominator among all people, and to give them hope for the future,” he said.

Noha Naif, a 23-year-old artist, said she started her own group on Facebook to apply graffiti-style artwork to t-shirts. She then connected her group with Subai’s, with the result a group called ‘Our Yemen, We Start From Here, Coloring the Walls on Your Street.’

“The idea is very nice, but it needs someone to support it and to provide the artist with all the drawing tools that they need” she said.

Some of the murals and paintings bear a moral or a message, while others simply decorate the walls on which they rest.

“Some paintings spread social messages such as tolerance, women’s rights, and the plight of marginalized communities. Others paint to instill hope, while some just aim to express inner emotions,” said Naif.

However inspiring this creative development may be, a variety of opinions, both positive and negative, have been provoked by Sana’a’s newly-painted walls.

“It is a very bad idea and I demand that all people who draw on the walls to stop. If they don’t have drawing notebooks, I will provide them,” said Salah Abdullah, a resident of Sana’a. For his part, Abdullah actively prevented an artist from drawing on his wall.

While others like looking at the murals and graffiti, they sometimes find themselves unable to comprehend their meaning. “I spent one hour trying to understand the message of a picture, but I couldn’t,” said Ahlam, a university student.

Many in Sana’a are encouraging what they see as the products of talent and enjoy looking at such artwork on walls. “These people have made us proud and raised our heads high – who knew we had so much talent?” said Ali, a teacher.

Sahar Abdullah, a 25-year-old artist and activist, said that on the whole, her fellow citizens have been incredibly supportive. “We all thought there would be more negative reactions from people, but it was the opposite: I did not imagine this idea would receive this much support from all kinds of people – civilians, armed men, women, children.”

 “When I pass by these walls, I have a feeling of utter happiness for two reasons: because it looks beautiful, and second, because I was part of it,” she added.

In the beginning, the drawing or graffiti followed a system, with only artist allowed being allowed to draw. But now all types of people have taken to picking up a paintbrush.

For her part, artist Noha Naif is bothered by this development, and asked those responsible for the groups of artists to maintain some degree of control and to allow professionals and creative individuals to display their creativity.

Noha called on media outlets to make people aware of this art and to help the artists convey their messages.

A female passerby who stopped to observe youths painting a wall in Sana’a said, “When the artists leave the area, the wall is no longer silent. It has changed from a wall of despair to a wall that speaks of life, courage and hope.”