“My murals give strength to the people and create hope for a peaceful time” says Haifa Subay a street artist from Yemen.
She was born in a time when the valleys of Yemen were silent and peaceful. This did not last long. The serenity turned into chaos when the peaceful protests of the Arab Spring descended into armed conflict in Yemen. Inspired by her fellow citizens who were fighting for their rights, Haifa started painting graffiti in 2012. Before this insurgency her canvas was a small notebook with oil and acrylic paintings.
The situation got worse in 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition began ruthlessly bombing the cities of Yemen. The airstrikes lasted for hours and the people were terrified for their lives. Haifa felt that the plight of the Yemeni people was overlooked with little or no media attention.
At that point she decided to give her people a voice by taking her art to the streets of Sana’a. She began her journey as a street artist alone and chose the busiest streets of the city to paint her murals. She painted the crimes committed against the women and children who had been subjected to a chain of continuous oppression throughout the war.
Her graffiti tells the uncountable horror stories of children who died out of hunger; women whose husbands were either mercilessly killed or never returned from the violence. The stories of these women who now live under extreme economic hardships and are vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse inform her art.
On this journey she faced resistance from the local people as well as the authorities since they were not accustomed to a woman painting on the streets. But later, motivated by her work some women and children joined her and together they painted murals highlighting the war crimes that were being forgotten.
After facing two consecutive years of war, in August 2017, armed with her arsenal of paint and brushes, Haifa started her first art campaign “Silent Victims” which told the stories of famine, landmine victims, destruction of schools and marginalization of children in Yemen.
Until now she has completed two art campaigns and a special exhibition on ‘War & Humans’ which was featured in the Singapore Art Museum.
“Together We Can Defeat It” is one of her latest works where she explores the COVID-19 pandemic, She created the piece during quarantine at her home in Aden.
Amidst the ongoing crisis in Yemen, she has started working on a new art campaign. All this has been possible because of the support of her family.
Haifa with her graffiti serves as an inspiration for her friends to do what they truly believe in.
It is challenging to be a graffiti artist in Yemen and painting murals can be extremely dangerous and even life threatening. She feels that the war has left a deep wound inside the hearts of the Yemeni people and they have little hope that it would end anytime soon. There is a constant fear of death and no guarantee of safety anywhere.
Through our interview, she appeals everyone to write to their respective governments to stop funding the warring parties and the shameless war crimes that they commit against the people of Yemen. She wants influential people in Yemen to act beyond their self interest and talk more about the plight and tragedy of the common people.
She hopes that more Yemeni artists will be strong enough to speak up about the atrocities of the war and show the beautiful side of Yemen that deserves to be saved.
Follow Haifa Subay on Instagram