Yemeni artist Alaa Rubil uses the shell-pocked buildings of his hometown as canvas, to shine a light on the horrors of war

Alaa Rubil, an artist in Yemen
Support us and go ad-free

Not long after the start of the war in Yemen, the southern port city of Aden, where artist Alaa Rubil lives, became the scene of brutal fighting.

For several months in 2015, artillery rained down on Aden. According to Human Rights Watch, Huthi rockets and mortars fired into densely populated areas killed dozens of civilians. Rubil, now 30, has been painting murals since he was a teenager, but found his voice in the aftermath of that round of violence.

He told Agence France-Presse (AFP):

I saw that the government was not aware of the people who were displaced. I wanted to communicate my message to the world by drawing people who lost their homes and families.

He continued:

By using the walls, I could reach the world.

Today, the rubble-strewn streets of Aden double as a semi-permanent exhibition of Alaa’s work – and a testament to what the city’s inhabitants have lived through.

Read on...

AFP tweeted this video interview with Alaa:

‘Feel the people’

On the wall of one shop in a particularly hard-hit area, Alaa painted a large outline of a man’s face but obscured the eyes, nose and mouth with a cupped palm holding up 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 the violin as peace signs float around its skull. In another work, a girl in a red dress sits on the ground with her head resting in her left hand, next to a black crow perched on a missile.

Behind her, the girl’s deceased relatives, rendered in black and white, peer down from an open window. The image is based on the true story of a girl who lived in the area and lost her family in the fighting, Alaa said:

She thinks that war is a game. She thinks that her family is returning, So she is waiting for them.

Amr Abu Bakr Saeed, who lives nearby, told AFP that the paintings were a dark but necessary tribute to the dead. He said:

When we pass through this place, we feel pain, we feel the people who were here. These paintings express the tragedies of the people whose homes were destroyed and who were displaced, and prove that war really took place in Yemen.

‘No one cares’

A little more than eight years ago, the Saudi-led coalition attacked Yemen, aiming to topple the Huthis, who had seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014. The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people either through combat or knock-on effects such as hunger and disease. Millions remain displaced, their homes and communities destroyed.

A truce that went into effect in April 2022 officially expired in October, but has still significantly reduced fighting across the country, raising hopes for a durable peace. Riyadh sent a delegation to Sanaa last month to meet with the Huthis, and the kingdom’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, told AFP this month he believed all parties were “serious” about bringing an end to the war.

Walking through the ramshackle streets of Aden, carrying his paint and brushes in a small basket so he could touch up several pieces, Alaa said he, too, was trying to be optimistic. He said:

I love the idea that this place could turn from a centre of destruction to a centre of peace.

He added that he hoped art could help the city rebuild. But he acknowledged that many Aden residents were still waiting to see tangible progress.

Local Yasmin Anwar Abdel Shakur said, as she passed by on her way home from work in a government health office, that:

For me, nothing has changed.

She described how most buildings that were heavily damaged during the war remain unrepaired, saying that locals “are threatened by buildings falling over on us at any time”. And she concluded:

Many people have died here, their lives are gone. No one knows and no one cares.

Featured image via Twitter Screenshot/AFP News Agency

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us