Taken from: muradsubay.com

Graffitis and brushes A look at Muslim Street art from the construction of peace and memory

Street art, as it has been called in recent years, is an “illegal” artistic manifestation, in most cases, because it resorts to the appropriation of public space such as a wall, the floor or a means of public transport to be embodied. This art is developed mainly in the city. The term has been changing with the use of different techniques for its realization. Before, “graffiti” was the word used to describe this type of wall art. However, the word “Street art” has been adopted since it brings together other techniques in addition to aerosol, such as posters, stencils, murals….1


Street art has had more influence in recent years because artists, now found in museums, have made themselves known through this medium. In addition, Street art has a very important quality and that is that in its development the place in which the artist intervenes is of utmost importance. Many times, this can have symbolic aspects that add in meaning to the work represented. This is the case of some manifestations of Street art in the Muslim world.


The Arab Spring was an event of great importance for Street art to become massive. This does not mean that before this event Street art did not exist in the Middle East, however, if it did exist, it served another purpose:


Street art and graffiti are rapidly developing arts on the international scene. In Western countries, they are tied to hip hop culture, often with underlying social and political messages. As mentioned above, these forms were also practiced in the Middle East before the Arab Spring, but within accepted political frameworks. In Egypt, they were used for advertising purposes or to decorate the outer walls of dwellings with scenes inspired by the pilgrimage to Mecca. (Naguib, 2016, p. 58).


With the Arab Spring that occurred in 2011, artists decided to politicize their expressions of Street art: “limited. Artists in these countries frequently resort to parody and satire as a means to circumvent censorship and, at the same time, share their ideas and political standpoints”
(Naguib, 2016, p. 60). For example, in Yemen this event is reflected in the taking of the Exchange Square, where different artistic manifestations are made with music, painting “[…] a rich production of posters with varied iconographies that go from the explicit exhibition of the repressive government violence to an aesthetic reminiscent of the socialist posters of former South Yemen ” (Marino, 2012, p. 68).


In this context, the project Colors the walls of your Street emerged between March 2012 and December 2015, a collective campaign led by the artist Murad Subay. Which, through a call on social networks, sought to gather as many people as possible to paint the walls of Sana’a, which until now had bullets.


It is a use of public space to protest openly and / or covertly, through graffiti with an explicit political message as well as purely artistic images that in a less obvious way also serve to reject the violence of the regime by locating itself on walls. loaded with political content. (Marino, 2012, pág. 70).

Taken from: muradsubay.com

This initiative had many hands that joined in painting. He summoned women, children and even the military. After this call, Subay begins a career in Street art to express her disagreements. Among her most important works are: The walls remember their faces, 12 hours y Ruins.


Subway’s work was so well received that in countries like Egypt these initiatives began to be replicated through different groups in the framework of the “Egyptian Revolution” and even, “[…] in places like Taez, the walls showed reproductions of works by Hashem Ali (1945– 2009), one of the pioneering figures of Yemeni modern painting (Marino, 2016, p. 126).


This artist managed to awaken Street art in great places in the Middle East. In 2013, the photographer Mia Gröndahl and Angie Balata created the Sit al-hita (the women of the walls), a group made up mostly of women that seeks to capture messages about women in Muslim society. In an interview with El País, Gröndahl mentions about the project: “It is not just about representing women. The mere fact that men see a woman painting in the street on a crane 50 meters above the ground sends a message”. The project seeks for women to be participants in this collective art, either by shaping Muslim traditions or other types of manifestations. 2

Taken from: El país.

The work of these artists made contemporary art visible in these regions,


In a country without museums specifically dedicated to modern and contemporary art, street art became a medium to portray pioneering works side by side with those of the youngest generation of painters and photographers. Street art was, for the first time, making it possible for art to reach unknown numbers. (Marino, 2016, p. 126).


These demonstrations also involve a criticism of the institutions that govern art, such as museums, galleries and the State: “Certainly, if young painters find in public space –and, more specifically, on walls– canvases in which to produce old and new works, it is because they are also questioning the relevance of traditional models of exhibition and relationship with the public”. (Marino, 2016, p. 127).

Street art beyond putting a work on the wall is a manifestation that covers more fields. In the case of Subay, he began to teach painting workshops to enhance people’s artistic capacities because he considers that art “humanizes” and in this sense it should be developed in spaces plagued by war conflicts:


Subay’s campaigns have been a complete break with these dynamics: by placing artistic expression on the street and eliciting the participation of artists and passersby, it has not only altered the traditional models of exhibition of works in Yemen, but also the way in which the public, the artists and the works interact. By placing works off the market (that is, in the public sphere – in the popular sense – and not in the private sphere), she has also questioned the current commercialization of art and culture that we witness in Yemen and elsewhere. (Marino, 2016, p. 134).


In this sense, Street art, beyond being an “illegal” practice or an “inferior” art, is an artistic manifestation that involves critical decisions in the field of the arts. It is evident that Street art expresses contemporary feelings that break down the different contexts and that undoubtedly help to raise voices to create spaces of memory, peace and reflection.


Bibliographic references:


  • Agencia Efe (6 de abril de 2011). El arte callejero rinde homenaje a los mártires de la revolución egipcia. [Video en línea]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDgzhRWv-Mc
  • Alfred, C. (22 de abril de 2016). Yemeni Street Artist Cover The Ruins Of War In Color And Memories. Huffpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/yemen-streetartist_n_57193277e4b0d0042da8a374.
  • Marino, A. (2012). Movilización, protesta y creatividad en Yemen: el arte de hacer política en la calle. Revista Quadern-se (17), pp. 56 – 72.
  • Marino, A. (2019). Haciendo historias visibles. Revista AWRAQ (19), pp. 125 – 135.
  • Murad Subay [Murad Subay] (s, d). Colors the walls on your street. https://muradsubay.com/campaigns/color-the-walls-of-your-street/
  • Naguib, S. (2016). Engaged Ephemeral Art: Street Art and the Egyptian Arab Spring. Transcultural Studies (2), pp. 53 – 87.
  • Pita, A. (23 de febrero de 2016). Grafiteras árabes para romper muros. El país. https://elpais.com/internacional/2016/02/11/actualidad/1455199996_992526.html


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