Gael Cronin explores how art can become the solitary mode of communication from the depths of warzone and tragedy to the rest of the world.
In a time where every real-life horror story feels like déjà-vu, the search for a new Guernica – Pablo Picasso’s greatest political statement, an artwork reacting to the devastating Nazi bombing on the town of Geurnica in 1937 – seems appropriate. The senseless bombing of a tiny village in northern Spain on April 26th 1937 echoes so many others in the world; particularly those which happen on a daily basis in the war-stricken and hungry Yemen. The country has been plunged into an aimless war since 2015. Many villages, schools and hospitals have been completely destroyed. It is, in the words of António Guterres himself, the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”
However, nothing is being done. The media blackout in the country makes it extremely difficult and even life-threatening for journalists to enter the territory and report on it. Over three million fathers, mothers, brothers, nephews, and little sisters have been forced to flee their homes due to the situation. Worse, tens of millions of people are at risk of starvation due to the Saudi embargo on the region. The country is truly suffocating and there may soon be nothing left to save.
Pablo Picasso was devastated by the news of the decimation of Geurnica, one of his home country’s villages, in Nazi bomb-testing in anticipation of a war Hitler would declare soon after. His ache showed through his painting. The characters in this giant masterpiece (349.3 cm x 776.6 cm) display a palette of pain and despair.
As a parallel, Yemeni artist Haifa Subay seems to be imagining her own version of the painting in the form of street art. Her pieces are very disturbing, providing a harrowing report of the war. Most of them are murals that can be found in the streets of Sanaa. Children can be seen holding their own limbs, and oftentimes their face isn’t visible, imagery that represents the media’s silence on the tragedies in Yemen and the grave reflection that the people of Yemen are being left to tend to the casualties of a war which is not theirs.
Murad Subay also presents the impact of this war on his people. The artist first joined the peaceful Yemeni revolution in 2011 and has now been creating art for about a decade, forced to include the events in his country in his works. He eventually left Yemen as the situation became too difficult, going to Egypt and now living in London. The United Kingdom is an ally to Saudi Arabia; both countries are involved in arms dealing amounting to 6.2 billion pound sales for the UK. It is therefore quite an impactful place to have his art visibly showcased.
These artists are, like Pablo Picasso, deeply wounded by the atrocities their country is experiencing for no apparent reason other than terror. Their work must be shown to the public as it is, to this day, the only proof of what is going on in Yemen.