graphic artists in the arab countries

Arab World Comics: ‘Live Matter’

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Arab World Comics: ‘Live Matter’

France’s 46th International Comics Festival at Angoulême, which closed last week, included a special focus on Arab comics, according to Olivia Snaije, Paris’ Bookwitty Partner Network‘s English-language editorial manager and Publishing Perspectives contributor.

As Snaije writes at Bookwitty, traditions of cartooning in the Arab world can be traced to the 19th century. In the modern era, “The lead-up to the Arab Spring and its subsequent failings has galvanized the comics scene, also giving rise to women cartoonists such as Nadia Khiari, known as Willis from Tunis, and many others, in what was a traditionally male-dominated area.”

An exhibition, The New Generation: Arab Comics Today, opened with the festival and is scheduled to be on view until November 4 at Angoulême’s Museum of Comics on Quay Charente.

The official catalogue of the exhibition was published Friday (February 2) by Alifbata, and is available now with its text in both French and English. The volume features more than 40 of the artist-authors from the exhibition, as well as three critical essays that contextualize the frequently challenged place the comics sector has held in the Maghreb and Levant. The book is produced in association with Tosh Fesh, a nonprofit organization for Arab artists, and the Mu’taz and Rada Sawwaf Arabic Comics initiative at the American University of Beirut.

The show itself comprises the work of artists from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia.

“Some grew up with war as a backdrop,” Snaije writes, “and all have experience with political unrest, corruption, censorship and more.

“What becomes apparent with this new wave of artists are certain trends: artistic horizons have been expanded, local Arabic dialects are being used, women are at the forefront of much of the creation, and the comics don’t only reflect the political aspect of life, but also bring up social and cultural issues, such as sexuality, homosexuality, homophobia, sexual harassment, feminism, poverty or the struggles of urban life.”

She points to another November publication, Topie, a retrospective on a decade of work in the field by the Lebanese comics collective Samandal. The album is based, as the title implies, on concepts of utopia.

And as for the new exhibition and its catalogue, “Simona Gabrieli, an Italian Arabist based in Marseille, who runs the Alifbata publishing company and was one of the main experts setting up the exhibit and the publication,” Snaije writes, “said that comics are how the younger generation in the Arab world expresses itself today, and that these representations are ‘live matter.'”