'F*** war' graffiti artist helps locals reclaim Yemen's neighbourhoods

Murad Subay’s mural "F*** war" has gained a lot of attention.
Murad Subay’s mural "F*** war" has gained a lot of attention.

Since war erupted in Yemen, graffiti artist Murad Subay has been painting on the walls of the capital city, Sanaa. His work denounces the war crimes, forced disappearances, poverty and epidemics that go hand-in-hand with conflict. Nicknamed the Arab Banksy by Western media, Subay has organised a series of collaborative graffiti projects to help people reclaim the walls of their neighbourhoods and express themselves freely.

Murad Subay, age 30, is an artist and painter who lives in Sanaa. In 2011, he was involved in the country's anti-government protests. Since the start of the conflict between Houthi separatists and pro-government forces in 2014, Subay has been decorating the city’s walls with graffiti that stands as a commentary on the political situation and denounces the horrors of war.

Recently, he finished a piece called "F*** war". Photos of his graffiti were widely shared on social media.

Subay often paints on the ruins of buildings destroyed by bombs dropped by the Saudi-led coalition, which supports the pro-government forces.

His works, also, often depict the impact of war on sanitation.

This mural depicts the cholera epidemic currently sweeping the country. More than 300,000 Yemenis have contracted the disease since June 2017, according to the World Health Organisation.


>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Dirty water, cholera and malnutrition: deadly mix afflicting Yemeni children


This mural represents the “three evils of Yemen”, according to Subay: war, hunger and illness.

This piece denounces the use of US military equipment by the Saudi-led coalition, which has been bombing the regions held by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

“I painted the faces of 102 disappeared persons in collaboration with their friends and families”

I am a self-taught artist. I chose to express myself in the street, where everyone can see my work. I want to show the terrible reality of war.

I make it a point to invite other people to participate and join in on the creative process. Most often, I spread the word about these collaborative events on Facebook.

To this aim, I have recently organised an annual Day of Graffiti. Every year on March 15, people will be able to join in several collaborative graffiti projects. There will be projects in several different towns in Yemen as well as in the United Kingdom, Madagascar, France and even South Korea.

Right now, I am trying to gather as much material as possible, including both spray and liquid paint and brushes. Some participants bring materials to share.


We will designate a specific section of the wall where each person will be allowed to paint whatever they wish. Of course, almost all of the paintings that we see reflect certain themes, including war, death and the common desire to achieve peace.

I’ve also launched several different series. Since November 2017, I’ve been working on a series called "Faces of war", which includes symbolic portraits of different evils at play in Yemen. In 2012, I painted the portraits of 102 people who had disappeared, in collaboration with their friends and families.

American NGO Human Rights Watch estimates that the forced disappearances have been carried out by both sides since the beginning of the conflict. At least 16,400 civilians have been killed since the conflict began, according to a recent UN report.