The Artist Finding Beauty in Conflict - Saba Jallas

AUTHOR: Bonnie Mayall


In March of 2015, Yemen’s civil war mutated into a full-scale conflict which has already claimed the lives of around 6,000 people and forced a further 2.5 million to flee their homes. (Independent, 2016) These staggering figures are the effect of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting civilian hubs - schools, hospitals, and markets - catalysed by the deposed Yemeni government in an attempt at political restoration. The conflict’s devastation is deep and ongoing, with the UN estimating that 8.6 million Yemenis are severely food insecure as a result. (OCHA, 2019) This year, Herve Verhoosel, spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), warned that 10 million Yemenis are now ‘one step away from famine’. (UN News, 2019)

In the midst of this devastation, Yemeni artist Saba Jallas has turned to her art as an outlet for her fears. Inspired by the work of Palestinian artists Tawfik Gebreel, Bushra Shanan and Belal Khaled, Jallas’s most famous work manipulates images of smoke from airstrikes in Yemeni cities into images of enduring hope. Jallas told the BBC that she came across these Palestinian artists when scouring the internet in the hopes of finding a way to alleviate the ‘negative feelings and overwhelming thoughts’ that the war had sparked within her. (BBC News, 2016) Gebreel, Shanan and Khaled’s work featured images drawn on photographs of airstrikes and bomb smoke in Gaza. Jallas describes their images as particularly concerned with ‘resistance and suffering’, whilst she wanted her work to express a message of ‘love, hope, and optimism’. Using only her Galaxy Note 3, Jallas too began to draw images on photographs she took of smoke clouds in Yemeni cities - most often, images of women, embracing children or simply watching the world with contended expressions.

Jallas’s work also includes more traditional oil paintings, again centred around the female figure. Last year, Jallas sold five of her paintings in charity auctions in the hopes of aiding those in need, and those most affected by the conflict, with her art. The women in her oil paintings are, once again, hopeful. They are depicted alongside symbols of hope such as candles, birds, and newly-budding flowers. As Jallas explains, for her, ‘a life without hope is not a real life’. She tells me that she hopes the Yemeni people ‘will always have hope, will always look for beauty and share it with others’, as the figures in her artworks seem to do.

 In 2010, Jallas lost her brother to the crisis - an officer in the Yemeni army who was killed in conflict. Her personal connection to the conflict permeates her work, and the resulting message she hopes afflicted Yemenis and people around the world will glean from it. ‘There is a lesson for us to learn from all that is happening in Yemen. We need to learn to accept our differences,’ she tells me. The intended message of her art is simple: ‘For the world, I want to tell them that Yemen doesn’t need weapons. We need peace. Look at the human catastrophes. When we lifted our weapons and threw out beauty and art, this was the result.’

Loa Pm