BEIRUT: The work of hard-hitting Egyptian editorial cartoonist Doaa’ al-Adl addresses such issues as child brides, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual harassment. Adl won the Mahmoud Kahil Award Tuesday, under the Editorial Cartoons category. This is the second consecutive year the Mahmoud Kahil Award has been run by the American University of Beirut’s Mu’taz and Rada Sawwaf Arabic Comics Initiative. The goal is to promote the art of comics, editorial cartoons and illustrations in the Arab world.
“Our aim is to support young and also experienced professional artists by highlighting their work, exposing it and, of course, honoring them through the awards,” director Lina Ghaibeh told The Daily Star.
Adl’s work regularly provokes vehement criticism. In 2012, for instance, she depicted Adam and Eve in a cartoon satirizing politicians’ using religion to dominate underprivileged Egyptians. In response, Salafi lawyer Khaled al-Masry accused her of blasphemy.
She remains defiant.
“I love to draw cartoons,” Adl told The Daily Star. “It’s what I’ve done for 10 years and I think it is important to draw about how different issues impact women. As a woman, I am more sensitive to these issues.”
Adl has recently published “50 Cartoons and More on Women,” which assembles some of her most well-known drawings. Among these is one denouncing FGM practices, in which a man is depicted cutting a red flower between a woman’s legs.
In the view of artist, designer and art historian Bahia Shebab, who served on the Khalil Awards jury, cartoons are becoming vehicles for female expression, so supporting women artists is critical.
“It brings half of society to the conversation,” she said. “We need to hear more from women. We have been marginalized for a quite a long time so it is our turn to speak.
“We are hoping that these women are paving the way for other young girls and women in the Arab world to tell themselves, ‘If Doaa’ al-Adl can win an award, maybe I can win an award too.’”
Adl has been published in Al-Doustour al-Asli newspaper, Sabah el-Kheir and Rose al-Youssef magazine and was chosen by the BBC for its 100 Women Season, which highlights the work of influential and inspirational women.
Speaking at “Framing War and Conflict in Comics,” a symposium on Arab comics that followed the award ceremony, Ghaibeh argued that, alongside women, young people have also found they can express themselves through this medium. “They are using it as a subversive [tool].
“The widening scope of freedom of expression and broader margins of censorship opened up through the revolutions,” she said, “allowed the medium to expand.”
In his paper “Comics and the Challenge to Patriarchal Authoritarianism,” Jacob Hoigilt agreed with Ghaibeh. “Patriarchy is not only about the oppression of women,” he said, “but also contains a generational aspect – the oppression of young people by older generation.”
Young artists, he argued, are using this medium to subtly criticize the status quo, letting us into their personal lives, their subordination by those in power.
Ghaibeh argued that satirical comics have moved into a more private space. “People are showing an inner side of themselves,” she said, “a more personal side. They have let us step into to their work to see them, naked, open and unafraid.”
Satirical comics have given women and young artists a voice and giving a voice to society’s most marginalized. The work of Lebanese comic artists Lena Merhej and Kamal Hakim, co-authors of the graphic novel “Meantime,” was showcased at this event.
The authors remarked that, as a form, the graphic novel enables readers to explore a certain visual representation of the Syrian refugee situation, their environment and challenges, while encouraging imagination and reader reflection.
American comic journalist Andy Warner argued that the power of images combined with text, alongside the active role of the reader when consuming their work, allows artists to appeal to readers. “They also allow documentation of events,” he said, “when photographers and filmmakers aren’t given access.”
Comics and editorial cartoons remains “truly underappreciated,” Ghaibeh told The Daily Star, something she is hoping to change through the Mahmoud Kahil Awards.
The Graphic Novels category was awarded to Fouad Mezher from Lebanon. The Comic Strips award went to Tunisian artist Othman Selmi, whereas Graphic Illustrations award went to Egyptian Muhammad Mostafa. Maya Fidawi, the Lebanese artist won the Children’s Book Illustrations award.