Cartoon Movement will participate in a public outdoor art project in Amsterdam. The exhibition is meant to showcase the work of talented comic artists from the city of Amsterdam, but we've been invited to participate as an Amsterdam-based organization that offers cartoonists form around the world to publish their work.
The exhibition consists of large canvases that will be wrapped around pillars in the Kinkerstraat, a busy street in the west of Amsterdam. We've created a design that incorporates the work of 19 cartoonists from 12 countries. In the video below you can see the artwork as it is printed.
On Tueday, an exhibition at the Dutch ambassadors reception in The Hague launched our new project Peace & Justice.
Together with World Press Photo, the city of The Hague and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cartoon Movement is launching a new project that will involve ambassadors, cartoonists, photographers and students from around the world in a global debate about peace & justice.
Check out our project page for more information, and watch the animation below. More info will be posted soon!
Why did you choose the Somalis in Europe as a topic for this comic?
Open Society Foundations’ At Home in Europe project were developing a series of research reports on Somalis in Europe and wanted to find new ways to introduce the findings to a broader audience. At Home in Europe commissioned us to undertake this work with the Somali community. Our comic is an adjunct to their fascinating reports, intended to introduce the topics accessibly through individual stories.
A beautiful aspect of the project is that the Somali migrant story has parallels with the stories and experiences of any migrant community. Issues of identity relating to first and following generations; the positives and negatives of cultural change and interaction; the practicalities of language and cultural barriers. Migrant communities can share all these experiences in common.
At present the Somali community is particularly scrutinised and frequently demonised. This, sadly, is also a common experience for migrant communities - perhaps Muslims in particular at the moment.
Because Somalis are presently suffering mistrust particularly acutely, they are an ideal community to collaborate with in a project that de-mystifies 'the alien within' by candid and relatable story telling. If people can be helped to scrutinise their assumptions about Somalis, by extension they may think more deeply about Pakistanis, Poles - or any of the nationalities who have joined us, and who lend their colours to the tapestry of our European identity.
Is this a story that is best told in comic form? And why?
We love comics. They are a highly accessible and immediate medium. They welcome all readers - and even non-readers!
But this outward simplicity - skillfully executed - can bely a great complexity of expression. To read a comic is to be transported swiftly to any conceivable place or time, and directly into the mind of any sort of character.
Comics can function with remarkable flexibility. They might be diagrammatic, conveying complex information more clearly than text. They can harness the power of illustration, and all the wonderment or empathy that skilled drawing can convey. Naturally they are literary, exhibiting the qualities of allusion, symbolism and metaphor found in writing. And from film and theatre they borrow the techniques of mise en scene, conveying meaning and emotion through arrangement and design.
Once on the page however, all these qualities greet the reader in the simplest way. Before your mind even begins to read the first speech bubble, a character and a place has imprinted on your mind through the pictures. Comics are a form that explodes with creative and expressive potential, and in the present day, we're only beginning to explore the possibilities for journalism, memoir, and subjects that hew to the real world and lived experiences.
What were the challenges of the project? Was it difficult to get people to tell their stories?
We were blessed in our work by the collaboration of very knowledgeable fixers, in the person of Open Society Foundations’ researchers, in the various cities covered by "Meet The Somalis". From those contacts our luck redoubled, as we met countless Somalis from all walks of life who kindly sat with us and spoke candidly about their experiences. Those interviews were intimate, moving, often funny or sad. All the respondents should be commended for taking a chance on two strangers, trusting us with their stories, philosophies and thoughts.
As with many migrant communities, in media and political dialogue, Somalis are more often spoken about than with. Many of our respondents were glad of the chance to address the wider community, to redress some common misconceptions, and in optimism of initiating positive dialogue in the future.
It was important to us to represent the diversity of Somali identity. The anonymity afforded by comics meant that people could be open. They would not have to suffer the awkwardness of family, friends, or the community knowing, for example, their personal relationship to traditional Somali values. Additionally, interviewees could be explicit about issues like poverty, or about disagreements.
This allowed us to show some of the contrasts and contradictions found within the Somali community - as within any community.
Our biggest problem was managing the wealth of material we gathered in the field research. Stories had to be edited down to the bone, to achieve thematic focus and clarity about often quite complex situations.
The characterization of our protagonists was a pleasure. We could draw from the vivid and varied personalities of the Somalis we had encountered. Coming from a totally different background however, we were concerned about making errors in our representation of the Somalis - whether in some aspect of cultural practice, or the simple nuance of how we rendered behaviour or voice.
However, we were greatly assisted by a few Somalis who checked over our work and gave invaluable suggestions and corrections.
How did your collaboration come about? Did you have this idea in mind and were you looking for a particular style of drawing, our did you and Lindsay come up with this concept together?
We have been working together for two years, principally on a graphic novel (currently in progress) about the 2009 civil war in Sri Lanka. This work is also fictionalised from first-hand testimony - this time from Tamil survivors of the brutal conflict. A preview of that project can be viewed at www.thevanni.co.uk. When Open Society Foundations saw this work they suggested a collaboration about Somalis, following the same testimony-led model of writing.
Lindsay draws great inspiration from Raymond Briggs for his illustrations.
“When The Wind Blows” is a comic of devastating power, telling the story of an elderly, ordinary English couple, cut off alone in their suburban home, in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. It's a forbidding subject, but the gentle humanity of Brigg's loving drawing draws you in. When the most upsetting scenes of the story arrive, the simple warmth of Brigg's style almost puts an arm around the reader to carry them through.
Following Briggs, Lindsay tried his best to depict the world - houses, streets, parks, mosques, villages - in a way that was truthful but softened. This was not vivid, clear-eyed photojournalism. We were writing from conversations - full of digression, memory and warmth. Lindsay's intention was that a gentle, story-book style would capture something of the warm human voices we had listened to at kitchen tables, on the streets and in cafes.
The artist is always somehow present when you view an illustration. The reader looks down at the page from the same perspective as the one who drew it; essentially on the very page the reader holds. Your eyes are where theirs were at the moment of drawing. This effect links the moments of drawing and reading. The illustrator is invisibly present with the reader, looking down at the same page.
This is different from text in a book, which is type-set and edited. A novel might be scrawled in red biro, but it will arrive at the reader's eye in a smart type-script. In this way, comics are more intimate. And when an artist draws as humanely as Briggs, his invisible, unconscious 'presence' with the reader, and the page, is warm, and sympathetic. That's the quality that Briggs brings to his work.
Do you have any plans for future comic projects?
As outlined above, we are continuing to work on a large project on the Sri Lankan conflict – www.thevanni.co.uk - and are also currently in the initial stages of a serialised project on the Syrian refugee crises.
Interview with Libyan cartoonist Nabil Fannoush - by Tjeerd Royaards
Nabil Fannoush contributes a daily comic strip to the independent daily The New Libya. Although his comic has received mostly positive reactions, radical religious, tribal and militia elements have been hostile to what he's drawing, and have even attacked to newspaper headquarters. He is currently residing in Canada to study, and has been urged by the newspaper editor-in-chief to remain there for the time being. We talk to him about the state of cartooning in Libya.
Are there many cartoonists in Libya, and did this number grow after the fall of Gaddafi?
'I think you'd get different answers depending on who you ask... For me the answer is no in both cases. As far as I'm concerned the late Mohammed Alzwawi was the only cartoonist Libya ever had and is a great loss because the culture of media and information is very underdeveloped here, and I consider cartoons to be more media than art. There are some artists whose drawings are published in newspapers, and the artwork is very good, but to me if they do not address issues and identify with the readers and their daily lives then they're not cartoons. It doesn't help that many of the artists copy Alzwawi's drawing style, but that is just my personal opinion.'
Why and when did you start doing comics?
'It's a bit of a long story, and for me personally quite an unhappy one at times, but I'll try to make it brief: drawing in caricature used to be a hobby of mine as a boy, and I used to participate in exhibitions all the time. I always wanted to be a professional cartoonist, but as I got older I began to understand that the regime heavily censors media, making Libya a hostile environment for cartoons.
I did not think it was right to negotiate the integrity of what I say through my drawings and tailoring them to suit the regime's standards, so I focused on earning a degree in computer science (and currently study and work in that field), but I still drew on request from NGOs and local causes without signature. I often drew anonymously when a subject bothered me enough. God knows I was fearful for myself at times, but it was fear for my family's safety that prevented me from drawing openly at the time. I had no right to endanger them.
After the fall of Gaddafi, an acquaintance of mine who is familiar with my work introduced me to Faisal Alhammali, the chief executive of Libya Aljadida (The New Libya) - which I consider to be the first truly independent Libyan newspaper since the sixties - and a long time unknown soldier for free Libyan press. Mr. Alhammali asked me if I was interested in drawing a daily cartoon for their paper. He did not want to enlist any of the known artists drawing for other papers because he shares my views regarding their work and he wanted something different. The concept of a daily strip featuring a central character is a new one for Libya, so I showed him a strip I've been working on in my spare time: Faraj Yawmi, a young Libyan professional struggling with the difficulties of daily Libyan life. Mr. Hammali liked it, and the newspaper has been publishing the strip exclusively since then. I believe that around 300 episodes have been published so far.'
What do you hope to achieve with your work?
'One hope is that I give the average Libyan, who for decades was and still is suffering from marginalization, a voice that can be heard over the noise from the plethora of Libyan media that serves private interest and political agendas and not the public good: they ignore the daily suffering of ordinary people. Another thing I aim for that is the more daunting task of appealing to them for awareness and tolerance, which sadly are in short supply in Libya right now. People need to understand that they need to compromise on things and tolerate each other and differing views for the overall benefit of their country and put aside prejudices and short term personal gain.'
You have received threats because of your work. What is the situation for you at the moment?
'There have been a number of threats, though my cartoons are in general well received. When they first started I was actually shocked and surprised by them and by the several attacks on the paper, the last of which caused a great deal of damage.
My work is not offensive in any way that I can perceive, that's not what it's for. I almost never refer to a particular person or entity, just occurrences and mentalities in a vein of cheeky humour; I take great pains to make sure that any cartoon is not taken out of context in that way, and the newspaper editors go through them to make sure. Also even if I do cross some line by accident I do not see any need for such an approach, as I have a policy of openness and availability to readers to hear complaints or grievances, and if anyone is offended to my knowledge I would make an effort to seek them out first to assure, appease and accommodate that person, so there is no need for militancy.
Certain extremist and fundamentalist elements for some reason I do not understand do not respond to my approach and efforts at dialogue and appeasement, and that saddens me, but there really isn't anything more I can do for them, and I see no reason to stop drawing for not accommodating radical views I can in no way foresee. All I can do is continue and hope for the best. If I am able to give even the smallest of comfort for a few ordinary people it's worth the risk.'
Nabil: 'This image is the original ending I wanted for the strip, as I felt it a more powerful message, but I was afraid that people might focus on the taboo aspect and miss the point... So instead I used a more "socially acceptable" drawing, and provided the Facebook page with the original ending so that it would be shown by request only.'
Is it dangerous to be a cartoonist in general in Libya?
'It can be at times, unfortunately. The danger now is different from that of an oppressive regime and carte-blanche security apparatus, and in a way more sinister. It's the opposite extreme of armed lawlessness and fundamentalists-religious, ethnic, tribal or otherwise- who are answerable to no one but themselves. They need not fear accountability for any act, including murder and genocide. Unless a cartoonist becomes part of the problem and aligns with the militias and their agendas for protection (at the cost of integrity and serving the public), he or she is a soft target with little or no protection from a very weak state.
Even something as insignificant as misunderstanding a cartoon's plot can turn tragic: while I was away the newspaper premises was attacked because a shopkeeper of a grocery store somewhere in Tripoli somehow thought that a strip I drew was about him personally, and to this day I am still bewildered as to how he came to that conclusion and why would he then commit such an act.'
Is there censorship or are there taboos (subjects you cannot draw about) in Libya?
'Not officially, but there are, quite a lot of them and someone forgot to print the manual. To me it's not the fact that there are taboos that's the main problem, it's the rather murky, unclear and often contradictory views on what can be said or not. The general definition of 'Taboo' in Libya right now is 'something that displeases someone'. It is mostly religiously fanatic groups taking advantage of the post-war chaos in Libya that are most dangerous to a cartoonist armed with ink and a pencil.
A lot of the complaints are things that I cannot in any way foresee. For example, a few weeks ago I was inspired to draw a cartoon about traffic and fuel consumption when I saw a young Tripolitanean lady going to work on a bicycle. Suddenly some people said I was "offending religion" by drawing (or in their words encouraging) a woman on a bicycle. This was considered "improper". I wasn't given any clear explanation for why I was offending the faith by drawing a woman on a bicycle even though women in Libya drive cars and walk out in public late at night . You can see why at times it can be quite frustrating, but I must be patient with these people, keep reaching out and hope they reach back.'