Yemen street artist chronicles war on battle-scarred walls

ADEN: Yemeni artist Alaa Rubil uses the shell-pocked buildings of her hometown as a canvas, highlighting the horrors and victims of war while painting images of death and despair.

The southern port city of Aden, where Rubil lives, became the scene of brutal fighting shortly after the start of a bloody conflict between Yemen̵7;s internationally recognized government and Houthi rebel forces.
For several months in 2015, artillery rained down on Aden, and Houthi rockets and mortars were fired at densely populated areas, killing dozens of civilians, Human Rights Watch reported at the time.
Rubil, now 30, has been painting murals since we were a teenager, but found his voice after that period of violence.
“I saw that the government didn’t know about the people who were displaced,” he told AFP.
“I wanted to convey my message to the world by drawing people who lost their homes and families,” he said.
“Using the walls, I could reach the world.”
Today, the rubble-strewn streets of Aden double as a semi-permanent exhibition of Rubil’s work – and a testament to the city’s residents.

On a shop wall in a particularly severely affected area, he painted a large outline of a man’s face but obscured the eyes, nose and mouth with a cupped palm holding three sticks of dynamite.
Across the street, on the interior wall of a bombed-out apartment building, a piece he calls “Silent Suffering” depicts a skeleton playing a violin as peace signs float around his skull.
In another work, a girl in a red dress sits on the ground with her head in her left hand, next to a black crow sitting on a missal.
Behind her, the girl’s deceased relatives, dressed in black and white, peer down from an open window.
Rubil said the picture is based on a true story of a girl living in the area who lost her family in the fighting.
“She thinks war is a game. She thinks her family is returning,” he said. “So she is waiting for them.”
Amar Abu Bakar Saeed, 42, who lives nearby, told AFP the painting was a dark but necessary tribute to the dead.
“When we walk through this place, we feel the pain, we feel the people who were here,” he said.
“These images express the tragedies of those whose homes were destroyed and those displaced, and prove that the war really happened in Yemen.”

A little more than eight years ago, neighboring Saudi Arabia forged a coalition to overthrow the Houthis, who captured Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014.
The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people either from fighting or from knock-on effects such as hunger and disease. Millions of people remain displaced, their homes and communities destroyed.
A ceasefire that took effect in April 2022 officially expired in October, but it has still significantly reduced fighting across the country, raising hopes of a lasting peace.
Riyadh sent a delegation to Sanaa last month to meet with the Houthis, and the kingdom’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, told AFP this month that he believed all sides were “serious” about ending the war. Were.
Rubil said he was also trying to be optimistic, walking through the shabby streets of Aden, carrying his paints and brushes in a small basket so he could touch the many pieces.
“I love the idea that this place can transform from a center of destruction to a center of peace,” he said, adding that he hoped art could help rebuild the city.
But he acknowledged that many Aden residents were still waiting to see concrete progress.
“For me, nothing has changed,” said Yasmin Anwar Abdel Shakoor, 53, who was on her way home from work at a government health office.
“We are at risk of the buildings collapsing at any moment,” he told AFP.
“Many people have been killed here, their lives have been lost,” she said. “Nobody knows and nobody cares.”