By Jannie Schipper (this interview was originally published in Arabic by Radio Netherlands Worldwide; republished here with permission)
© RNW/Omar Abdallat
Jordanian cartoonist Omar Abdallat, winner of the Cartoon Spring Competition, considers himself an ‘eternal student’. While in the past he let university teachers and others stop him from drawing cartoons, since 2004 he decided that he and his colleague artists had to keep defending humanity by their critical drawings. He is currently responsible for Rusoom.com, an important platform for Arab political cartoons.
What was your reaction to winning the Cartoon Spring Competition?
I was very happy, because the competition and its timing are very important to me. The subject is considered to be an event that history will remember for a long time. I am honoured because there are names in the competition that I know very well, friends and colleagues whose work I respect and admire.
What are you trying to express with your winning cartoon?
The systems of tyranny in the Arab world try to brainwash their peoples’ minds, convincing them that there is only one person that can lead the state forever, and that if that person was not there, the state would destroyed and it become chaos. In other word, the leader is a god who can never make mistakes, and it is the leader’s right to decide about the country’s policy and economy, and about the dreams and fate of its people. This theory is promoted by the educational and media systems as well as the security grip that is unjust to anyone who thinks or says the contrary.
In my cartoon ‘Tweet of Freedom’, the tyrant or his system resembles the cage that has imprisons the thoughts of freedom, justice and equality and the expression of a different opinion. In the caricature I likened the thoughts of freedom and the ending of tyranny to the bird which broke the cage of the dictatorial systems and flew away to the free world. I chose the blue colour for the bird because it is the colour of the internet sites that played an important role in the erosion and detection of lies of the tyrant systems.
We understood that you stopped drawing for a while. Why?
Since my childhood, I had the ambition to draw cartoons to express thoughts, views and dreams. Unfortunately, in the period that I was a student in Jordan, school and university did not pay attention to the art of cartooning. On the contrary, my teachers forbid me to draw cartoons, considering it an impolite way of expression and an insult to the people who were the subject of the cartoons. I concluded that my cartoons only got me trouble and stopped for a long time.
How did you begin again and where do you publish now?
I began again to draw in the year 2004 by publishing my work on websites. In 2007, I founded a website for cartoons and animations together with a group of partners. I worked with a Jordanian newspaper for a while, but they ended the cooperation. I think the views I expressed in my drawings were one of the reasons. At the moment, I work in the network Kharabeesh as a cartoonist and a director and am responsible for www.rusoom.com , the platform for Arab political cartoons. I also publish my own work at my Facebook page. I participated in a number of Jordanian, Arab and international competitions and cartoon expositions and won some prizes before.
How do you see your future and that of the Arab youth?
I hope to continue in drawing and in learning more, because I believe we always stay students. The artist who thinks that he does not need to develop himself further, is considered to have ended his path. I also hope to stay active in the foundation that I am working in, to let my own cartoons and those of my colleagues reach the largest possible number of Arab readers.
When it comes to the future of the Arab youth, the picture is not clear with the chaos and bloodshed we see in some of the countries where the Arab spring revolutions took place, but while following the events, I found many Arab young people that have the ambition to rebuild and develop their countries. What I mean is that despite the difficult circumstances the area is going through, I have great hope that the Arab youth will successfully rebuild their countries. Simply because they never want to go back to the injustice they lived in.