As the war in Yemen continues to inflict suffering on its millions of civilians, a Yemeni graffiti artist is taking her art to the streets of Sanaa to draw images of war and hunger in the conflict-torn country.
Haifa Subay, 28, is weaponizing her art to disseminate messages of peace at home and to try to bring the world’s attention to the toll that war has taken on Yemenis, particularly women and children.
“I wanted to send a message of peace, a plea to stop the fighting and alleviate the suffering caused by the ongoing war,” Subay told VOA from her home in Sanaa.
Subay said her art campaign focuses on various humanitarian and social consequences of the conflict, including famine, land mines, displacement, child soldiers, child marriage and domestic violence against women. She chose Sanaa’s most populated areas to make sure her striking art is seen by as many people as possible.
’Just a Leg’
One of her popular works, called “Just a Leg,” shows a one-legged boy who is holding his amputated leg, the result of a land mine accident. Another artwork, “Child of Bones,” portrays a mother holding her malnourished son.
“All of my murals are of real people and real situations,” Subay said, and each one “has a story behind it representing an aspect of the conflict. My favorite mural is of the child victim of land mines holding a leg he lost in an explosion.”
The war in Yemen started in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in support of the internationally recognized government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi after Iran-aligned Houthi rebels staged a takeover of Sanaa and large swaths of Yemeni territory. Since then, the conflict has morphed into a proxy war between neighboring Saudi Arabia and Iran.
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a database tracking violence in the country, the conflict has, since early 2016, caused 67,600 deaths; 7,000 of those victims were civilians.
The United Nations has warned that Yemen is facing the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with two-thirds of all districts in the country in a “pre-famine” state and an estimated 80 percent of the population in need of some form of humanitarian assistance.
The agency said women and girls are paying the heaviest price in the conflict, with many being prevented from going to school or even having access to public spaces.
According to a report released in February by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the conflict has forced about 4.3 million Yemenis to flee from their homes, with almost half of the displaced being women and girls under age 18.
“With limited shelter options, displaced women and girls tend to suffer most from lack of privacy, threats to safety and limited access to basic services, making them ever more vulnerable to violence and abuse,” UNFPA reported.
As a female artist, Subay said she wanted to use her work as a tool to express women’s suffering due to the war and their abilities to make positive change when they are given an opportunity.
“When I started painting on the walls of my city, some people were surprised by seeing a woman drawing graffiti on the street. But my illustrations of war touch the hearts of every Yemeni,” Subay told VOA.
“With time, the gazes of surprise have turned into support and encouragement,” she said, adding that she has been able to change the attitude of many toward women’s abilities.
Similarly, she hopes her murals can also help promote peace and respect for civilian lives as warring sides seek a compromise to end over four years of war.
The Saudi-backed government and Iran-backed Houthis reached a U.N.-backed cease-fire agreement in December that demanded all parties pull back from the main ports and parts of the strategic city of Hodeida. The agreement, however, fell short of its goals as the parties started accusing each other of using the cease-fire to prepare for war.
The U.N. on Monday said efforts were under way to get the warring parties to the negotiating table again.
“I hoped for a peace that alleviates the suffering of Yemenis, but my hope is fading as the conflict is deepening my people’s agony. … My country’s grave suffering is a wound in my heart,” Subay said.