‘Drawing helps me escape bitter reality’: Young Yemeni turns to art amid war

Rua’a Alameri
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The turmoil in Yemen has grabbed headlines worldwide for the past three years, overshadowing various aspects of life, including the vibrant art scene in the country.

Although political chaos and a devastating conflict plunged the country into an economic and humanitarian crisis, a young Yemeni escapes the “bitter reality” through art.


Lilian Sami Ibrahim al-Kaff, 19, told Al Arabiya English that she started drawing three years ago.

“There was no specific reason that made me draw, but that day when I made my first drawing I felt a different feeling inside me,” Kaff said.

Kaff, who lives in the southern port city of Aden, turned to art at a time of instability in Yemen. Shortly after the 2011 revolution overthrew Ali Abdullah Saleh – who ruled for over 33 years – the country fell into chaos as political and tribal leaders fought for power. The power vacuum led to several conflicts in the country, which then resulted in the Houthi militias’ coup in the capital Sanaa in 2014 and the intervention of the Arab coalition in 2015.

aden art
aden art

The young artist explained that she began to take her art seriously when the war began, as it helped her escape from the harsh reality.

“Drawing is my attempt to escape the bitter reality that we live in because I consider it another world far from everything,” she said.

Kaff explained that when she begins drawing, she does not plan or think about what she is going to make, but rather lets her ‘feelings’ move her hands.

aden art
aden art

Her artwork comprises oil and crayon paintings as well as ink, in both abstract and surreal forms. Other professional artists have critiqued her skill at expert level.

Azal Mujahid, a writer in Yemen, explain that Kaff’s art is a reflection of how society strives towards normalcy and a brighter future. He wrote in a post on Facebook, “In the rubble of misery our souls have not yet lost the desire to live and taste beauty, despite all the burdens of this damned war.”

aden art
aden art

Others have also tried to look past the devastation and the effects of war and move on by celebrating the country’s rich heritage. Last month, residents in Aden organized a three-day exhibition that displayed art and artefacts, as well as traditional jewelry and local craftsmanship, highlighting Yemeni culture.

Those who attended the exhibition said that the idea behind it was to highlight that despite all the suffering, people are trying to live a normal life again.

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