BEIRUT: “There is always something happening and it’s been an eventful two years in Lebanon, so I’m never short on content,” political cartoonist Bernard Hage said. “The best thing we can do is just laugh at our troubles. There is always a source of frustration somewhere and I translate this frustration into humor, because that’s what I do in my daily life.”
The satirist, who goes by the pen name The Art of Boo, recently released “The Anatomy of a Hummus Plate,” a book collecting over 250 social and political cartoons, covering the last two years of upheaval in Lebanon.
“It’s basically about everything that’s been going on since the revolution. It’s divided by themes, so its starts with the Lebanese people as a society, then the revolution, the economic crisis, the port explosion, the pandemic and then at the end there is a section of international issues and dark humor cartoons,” Hage told The Daily Star. “When I started it was a very modest compilation – I had the book ready in the summer of 2019. Little did I know what was coming.
“The revolution started and I thought I can’t publish this book without cartoons about the revolution, but by the time I had the new set ready, the pandemic happened,” he added. “Every time something new delayed it, until the explosion happened and I drew the line there or I would never publish the book and decided to get it out before the next tragedy hit.”
The book showcases cartoons published on his Instagram account and featured in L’Orient Le-Jour, for whom he draws daily. The cartoons are mostly black-and-white, with occasional pops of color, and use a minimalistic drawing style with a focus on the messages rather than the visuals.
Some doodles are lighthearted commentary on life in pandemic isolation, such as people walking laps around their sofas for exercise. Others are more critical, like a child unable to sleep because of the money-grabbing Central Bank governor monster under his bed.
“It’s sad at some point because this is the only option left to us – to laugh – but it’s also a double-edged sword because it can also make us inactive or apathetic, so it hurts us as much as it helps us,” Hage mused. “It’s what we saw in the revolution. I think we’re the only country that had a DJ set in the middle of a protest, or people who set up swimming pools in the street or brought out furniture to make a B&B – this funny approach is part of our culture.”
He hopes that the book will act as an introduction to Lebanon for outside audiences who only know that Lebanon is famous for its hummus and are uninterested in the social and political issues affecting people on a daily basis.
“We’re famous for having the biggest hummus plate ever in the Guinness Book of World Records and it’s been a competition with our southern neighbor, who we shall not name, as they made a hummus plate of two tons and then made one of four tons,” Hage said, “and then we made one which was 10,452 kg, which is the same number as Lebanon’s geographical area and that’s how we won that battle.
“Hummus became this symbol of our national identity and Lebanon became famous worldwide for this mezze, but beneath this layer of hummus lies all the social and political problems, corruption, the economic crisis, communal suffering,” he added. “What I’m doing with these drawings is dissecting this plate of hummus, exploring its anatomy to give people a deeper introduction about Lebanon, which is more than just this tasty mezze everyone knows about.”
“The Anatomy of a Hummus Plate” is published by L’Orient Le-Jour.