Last week I was lucky to be invited by the Society of Illustrators ED Anelle Miller to mingle with colleagues from the Middle East and Uzbekistan visiting under a program run by Christopher King of the US State Department.
During a time of great political upheaval in the region, in fact on the day when the president of Egypt announced new crackdowns on expression, we were talking together about our mutual interest: saying true things with images in print.
We began by walking through a current show of the work of Kadir Nelson, limning the struggle for equal rights of minorities in the US.
Later, one of America’s leading caricaturists and art journalists Victor Juhasz and artist and scholar (in the field of women in cartooning in the Middle East) Marguerite Dabaie an I took turns presenting work at a sit-down session in the Library.
For all that, I kept noticing that these artists mostly wanted to talk about their work, how to get it in shows.
Just like us!
The Kadir Nelson show. I pointed out that in this amazing painting Washington is clearly seen and the slave, although, in the foreground, is hardly visible. And that this show presents the African American figure emerging form this shadow.
At the newly revamped and brilliant Air Force Show in the SI Dining Room Victor Juhasz explains the process by which SI artists travel with troops and come back with extremely diverse, deeply heartfelt and sometimes deeply disturbing images. The gentleman at Vic’s left is an interpreter.
Ramzi A. Taweel, Palestinian cartoonist showed his work on a tablet to Margo Dabaie, Palestinian American artist, who wrote a dissertation on women in Arab cartooning.
The Arabic interpreter here looks as if he’s laughing up his sleeve but actually he is quietly speaking into a mic which transmitted to headphones held by the Arabic speakers. I was amazed at this technology. Although when my slides went haywire this gentleman let me know that he couldn’t translate my disjointed narration. That was helpful because I wasn’t making much sense in English anyway. Apologies here to Vic for what a 1/30 of a second exposure can do to your face.
Samir Abd Elghany, Egyptian cartoonist.
As they listened I felt a kind of receptiveness and intensity that the camera caught as well.
Here I am with Ramzi Taweel, who works in the office of the president of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and draws for the press in his off hours. Cartooning as a sideline is not an uncommon lifestyle for cartoonists around the world.
It was great to connect with everyone. Very grateful to the SI and the State Dept. for the chance to make these friends. Here’s to them and all artists everywhere, especially in the tough spots, struggling to speak freely where free speech can be a seemingly impossible luxury.