“The Walls Remember” graffiti puts a face to Yemen’s forcibly disappeared
Murad Sobay, a Yemeni artist, is helping to revive the issue of Yemenis who have forcibly disappeared by carrying out a campaign called “The Walls Remember.” He drew the faces of those who have disappeared in addition to illustrating the place and the date of each disappearance in two languages, namely Arabic and English.
According to Amnesty International, an enforced disappearance is when “a person is arrested, detained or abducted by the state or agents acting for the state, who then deny that the person it being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.”
Amnesty’s website indicates that enforced disappearances are crimes based on international law.
“I heard of those disappeared, but I did not know about them in depth,” Sobay said. “After I read a lengthy report published by Al-Nida newspaper in 2007, I was astonished to find a society living among us called the disappeared. We evade talking over this issue under the pretext that we are busy with our daily problems.”
Regarding his campaign, in an interview with the Yemen Times he said “The Walls Remember” is a humanitarian campaign that belongs to no political party in order to help the relatives of the disappeared know about their true fate.
It is common for disappeared persons to never be released, meaning their families might not learn what happened to their loved ones, according to Amnesty.
“‘The Walls Remember’ is a technical campaign that aims to deliver a message,” Sobay continued. “The message is that if Yemenis would not remember the suffering and the pains of the disappeared throughout these long years, the walls will remember and stand by them.”
A separate campaign—“Color Your Wall”—which was initiated months ago in order to beautify the walls in the capital city, is different from “The Walls Remember.” He said the latter attracts professional artists to illustrate details about the disappeared as a token of respect. He hopes this new campaign will spread nationwide just like the former campaign.
Expressing his stance toward the reaction of media outlets in Yemen, Sobay said, “Media in Yemen prefers to cover firing issues such as gunfire rather than to focus on a painting issue. The foreign agencies like Reuters and Agence France-Presse were more reactive and serious toward ‘The Walls Remember’ campaign.”
Concerning some of his graffiti that was painted over and defiled, including how some people didn’t accept the artwork, Sobay said, “Those who distorted the graffiti confessed that they want to hide the truth. They can’t afford to be looking at the photos of their victims every now and then when they pass by. Consequently, they resorted to altering the graffiti under the cover of darkness, thinking that they can hide the truth.”
“But they are wrong,” he continued. “They distort the graffiti at night, and we draw other ones during the day. All artists, relatives of the detainees and their friends continue drawing the victims’ photos on walls in streets to make them memorable and to be witnesses of a period when the most prominent victims were human beings.”
Regarding Yemenis’ reaction toward the campaign, Sobay said the detainees’ relatives were the first to react to the campaign.
“Several families were encouraged to give us information about the detainees,” he said. “They came while we were drawing on walls and gave accurate details about the detainees. The people reacted positively toward the idea, but usually people accept new ideas gradually.”
Sobay asserted that the 16 faces plastered on the wall belong to people who have been detained for many years in incidents that happened between the 1960s and 1990s. The detained include activists, journalists, intellectuals, partisan leaders and military leaders. They were, during their times, effective members of Yemeni society.
“The first graffiti we drew belonged to Abdulaziz Awn and Ali Khan, two Yemenis who were detained at the end of 70s during the last century, and their fate is unidentified so far.”