Graffiti Artist Portrays the Horrors of War in Yemen

Murad Subay most recently painted images of malnourished children.

— LONDON -- When Murad Subay takes a walk in his city of Sana’a in Yemen, he witnesses scenes that he didn’t see two years ago:

There’s trash everywhere. The roads, even the main streets, are full of holes, some completely without asphalt. Passersby look sad and cautious.

Many don’t have access to clean water or enough to eat. Some beg for food, while others are too proud to ask. Instead, they go out at the end of the night, looking for leftovers in the trash.

“Before the war, people would go to gardens, recreational parks and take walks,” Subay, 29, told ABC News. “Now, they mostly stay in their homes and try to live.”

Subay, an artist originally from Dhamar, Yemen, moved to the capital Sana’a with his family in 1993. He now uses the walls of the city to paint about the 18-month-old war there.

Interim President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and his government fled the country. An Arab coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia then initiated a military campaign to restore Hadi’s government to power.

In some areas like Hodeidah governorate, Global Acute Malnutrition rates have been recorded as high as 31 percent among children younger than 5, more than double the emergency threshold of 15 percent.

In his art campaign, “Ruins,” started in May 2015, Subay paints about some of the country’s problems. He painted on walls last week with his friends under the theme “death by hunger and disease.” An emancipated child in a casket was among the motives.

He decided to move his art out in the public and started painting with others on walls. During the first campaign in 2012, he and fellow artists painted portraits of more than 100 people who've disappeared.

Subay's brother Nabil, a journalist, was shot in both legs by unknown perpetrators after he wrote critically about the war. He is now being treated in Cairo.

The parties of the conflict have also occasionally interrogated Subay and prevented him from painting in certain places. But that has never stopped him from initiating new campaigns.

“When you are doing the right thing, you should not fear anybody,” Subay, whose wife studies at Stanford University in California, said.

Financial struggles, however, prevent him from painting as often as he would prefer. Like many other Yemenis in the Arabic-speaking country, Subay doesn’t have a salary.

“I can’t paint like before,” he said. “Materials are expensive, so I only paint every two months. Before, I would paint something every two weeks. There’s almost no work because of the war.”

He started painting and drawing in a serious way when he was in the eighth-grade in 2001. He did a sketch of a boy on an A4-sized paper sheet and showed it to his parents.

“They said, ‘You are an artist, go on. They started supporting me by buying me materials and then it started,” Subay said, adding that he wants friends, passersby and anyone elseo who wants to join to take part in his street art.

“Art gives hope and expresses the situation people are living,” he said. “It is the voice of people. In war, all voices are voices of hatred and destruction. What we do is show that there are other voices people can listen to. In times of war, even the smallest voices may save lives. Yemenis are in need of every voice in the world to push for stopping the war. The worst thing in war is when hope is lost. I personally also paint to protect myself from becoming hopeless."