Yemeni Artist Resists Devastating US-Saudi War with Graphic Design
Ahmed Jahaf, an artist and graphic designer in Sanaa, Yemen, explains how he uses art to raise awareness about the crushing US-Saudi war and blockade on his country
BEN NORTON: It’s the Real News. I’m Ben Norton. Saudi Arabia has for three long years relentlessly bombed Yemen, with crucial assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom. This joint U.S.-Saudi war, which gets virtually zero attention in American TV news broadcasts, has unleashed the worst humanitarian crisis on earth, fueling hundreds of thousands of preventable Yemeni deaths and creating the worst cholera epidemic in recorded history. Yemenis have fought back against the Saudi bombing campaign from the very beginning, often resorting to unique and creative tactics and other forms of resistance.
Ahmed Jahaf, a Yemeni graphic designer and artist, has used visual media to raise awareness about the international war on his country, Yemen. Ahmed, his wife, and his two children have struggled for years living under constant bombardment and a suffocating blockade in Yemen’s capital city, Sanaa. In a previous interview with the Real News, Ahmed discussed the difficulties of life amid U.S.-Saudi war. Today we’re going to speak with him about how he has used art and graphic design to resist that calamitous war. Thanks so much for joining us on the Real News, Ahmed.
AHMED JAHAF: Thank you so much.
BEN NORTON: Well, first I want to preface for the audience, noting that in this video we will be highlighting a small selection of the artworks Ahmed has made. He is an extremely prolific artist and you can find more of his pieces at his website, ajahaf.com, and he’s an amazing graphic designer and you can find a lot of his work there. So Ahmed, can you speak a little bit about what motivates you as an artist? Why do you create art and graphic design?
AHMED JAHAF: I use graphic design, art, just to show the world what’s happening around me. It’s my way to show the world what has been and what’s happening in front of, in front of me, around me, today. People who talk to the media , people who write. I use my way as an artist and graphic design. Graphic design. To work this way, to get the attention of people to know what’s happening in Yemen. You know, some pictures of the war crimes, difficult for people to see the blood or something like that. I change it to art, to send the message and in my art. But not like really pictures, blood and children with blood , something like this.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, and sometimes you even have a touch of humor, which is incredible because you’re dealing with very dark issues.
AHMED JAHAF: Yeah. I have it.
BEN NORTON: One of the points that you also emphasize in your art is the global nature of the war. This is not just Saudi Arabia waging a war in Yemen. In your art you frequently have symbols from the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries. Can you speak about the international nature of this war?
AHMED JAHAF: Yeah, like countries who support Saudi Arabia and UAE. For me as an artist I believe Saudi Arabia can’t do anything good the U.S. either can do. That’s why I’m always trying to do not just, then, not just make art to Saudi Arabia. I always, I make USA, Italia, Canada, who support Saudi, who are still around Saudi, as a part of the war crimes and focusing the war in Yemen, like the flags of the U.S. and UK on bombs. And on the air strips. Something like this to show. We inside Yemen, we know that. On the Saudi Arabia, who’s always by, who’s bombing Yemen, not bombing Saudi Arabia. We believe, we know, that U.S. and UK and many countries, like more than ten countries, but we always say U.S. and feel because they are great companies. The most countries who support Saudi Arabia. In Yemen we believe also Saudi Arabia can’t do anything without U.S. agreeing, and UK.
BEN NORTON: And then can you talk about the symbols and themes you use in your art? You’re very creative in your use of a sword to represent Saudi Arabia and you use other symbols, the eagle for the United States. How do you think of many of these symbolic themes, and then how do you represent them in your art?
AHMED JAHAF: The ideas that, first, people, they ask me, why you do this? People they don’t know this is for Saudi Arabia, and this is another country. But after three years and many art they just saw. The choice was simple. They know that’s the USA, that’s Saudi Arabia. And this is creative, as you say. I like it, I like to use this.
BEN NORTON: It’s very unique, it’s very clever. Can you talk about what got you into graphic design? Have you always been an artist, or was it the war itself three years ago that inspired you to begin creating these artworks?
AHMED JAHAF: No, I was, I used to be a graphic designer for logos and motion graphics. But after the first day in this war [inaudible] I started to be only just graphic designer of the war, of the forgotten war in Yemen only. All my work, I’ll be just, just make art and try to show the world what’s going on using Twitter. I sometimes, I send reports to people about there is some jets flying over Sanaa. There is a new war crime in Sanaa. Like a reporter and artist and graphic designer.
BEN NORTON: And what’s incredible is you have so many artworks and you’re so responsive to many of these things that are happening. You know, I frequently see on Twitter and your website that you post more and more artwork. So what response have you gotten to your art, not just inside Yemen but around the world? Because what’s interesting is I’ve seen some printouts of your art at protests here in the United States. I’ve seen photos of it in at protests in the United Kingdom. How have you been received internationally for your work?
AHMED JAHAF: This is the message that my art arrives to people outside of Yemen. Inside Yemen maybe people, they don’t have, they don’t know about my art. I only use my art to people outside Yemen, in the UK and U.S. and Germany, many countries. And as you say, they use my art in protests and in TV media. Because of there are some amazing activities like you and many people, they stand with Yemen.
BEN NORTON: And then, finally, in Palestine there’s this concept of sumud, right, that Palestinians will always resist through existence. The act of existence itself is an act of resistance. How do you see your art as a form of resistance? And then how do you think other Yemenis are engaging in other creative forms of resistance and refusing to submit to this international Saudi-U.S. backed war on their country?
AHMED JAHAF: Yeah, muqawamah against Saudi Arabia. Yeah, I think we are a part of muqawamah and their insistence, because the enemy is the same one, it’s Saudi Arabia, and those who support Saudi Arabia in Lebanon and Palestine and Iraq and Yemen is the same country. I know that Israel and Saudi Arabia is the same for us inside, in Yemen.
BEN NORTON: You are using art as a form of resistance, as a creative form of resistance. What are some other Yemenis doing to also resist in these kinds of creative ways?
AHMED JAHAF: Yes, some, they are throwing some caricatures. Some are using words, motion graphics, videos. Protests outside Yemen. They brought many, many kinds of ways to resist Saudi Arabia.
BEN NORTON: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Ahmed. Again, for the audience, the artworks we showed in this video by Ahmed are just a small selection of the graphic design he has done. You can find more of his artworks at his website, which is ajahaf.com. That is, A-J-A-H-A-F dot com. Thanks so much for joining us Ahmed.
AHMED JAHAF: Thank you so much.
BEN NORTON: You can follow Ahmed on social media especially, on Twitter where he’s very active. I’m Ben Norton reporting here for the Real News. Thanks for joining us.