A Yemeni cartoonist shares the trade’s finer pointsFreedom of brush a cartooning prerequisite [Archives:2004/715/Community]

February 26 2004

Because modern cartooning is linked to the development of journalistic equipment, such as offset printing, caricatures are rather new in Yemen.
The art was first practiced at the outset of the eighties in the then North Yemen at Al-Gamhooriyah Newspaper, issued in Taiz and considered the first school of most of our pioneer cartoonists.
At their vanguard is the cartoonist Mr. Arif Albadawi whom we had the chance to interview. Following are excerpts:
Q. Could you please introduce yourself?
A. My name is Arif Al-Badwi , I was born in 1966 in Taiz Governorate. Currently I am studying the fourth year Sharia and Law College. I am married and I have four kids.

Q. How do you rate Yemeni comic strips? Do we have a school here?
A. Cartoon strips are the legitimate son of the people's worries and in our case here in Yemen it has not leapt over this reality. But the freedom of expression differs from one newspaper to another. In other words cartoons published in opposition newspapers are freer than those in state run newspapers.
It is difficult to speak about a school like the Egyptian or Lebanese because we lack encouragement and sponsorship albeit we do not lack gift and boast having a number of creative cartoonists.

Q. Do you think that cartoons have been able to shape up opinions regarding certain issues?
A. I am sorry to say no as most cartoonists are mere employees and thus they have to abide by the employer's orders whether that be an Editor-in-Chief or a party leader, not to mention that many cartoonists are still immature in their thoughts as well as the diversified social problems he or she is faced with.

Q. What are the obstacles faced by a cartoonist in our country?
A. The limitation of freedom of expression and the red lines set under security and national pretexts, censorship, etc, for example from a number of five cartoons, two are excluded due to security reasoning, being averse to interests, non-abiding etc..

Q. What is the impact left behind such cartoons?
A. In my case, I have luckily enjoyed popularity amongst many social and cultural circles and this just shows how comic strips are effective in transmitting ideas and thoughts.

Q. How do you see the future of this art in Yemen?
A. Well, in Yemen before its being a separate art on its own, it is closely linked to journalism, so if journalism succeeds in Yemen it follows suit, but if otherwise is the case the result is negative. Let us always hope for the best. I hope that the day will come when we have our own association and can under such an umbrella participate in exhibitions locally and abroad.

Q. Cartoons in Yemen deal with many aspects, what aspect achieved success?
A. I cannot pinpoint to a certain issue because our cartoons deal with our mundane worries such as Catha Edulis Addiction, extremism, women's picnics, cooking gas shortages etc.
Anyhow, cartoon strips can address many issues related to the ambitions and problems of our Arab nations once given the freedom to express itself.
I would like here to mention a strange phenomenon taking place in our society. We as cartoonists make comic strips about the corrupt officials who steal everything and instead of their being admonished, disciplined or sacked from their positions, we often find that they become rather aggressive and excessively corrupt. They often become promoted to higher positions, and this to me is rather perplexing and makes us think that our criticism of the filthy corrupt serves them even more and in this instance cartoons are counter-productive.

Q. Why do most cartoonists use slang?
A. It is only natural that the language used in cartoons is slang because we would like to address everyone so the language should be rather simple, so that it can reach its final objective.

Q. What about women cartoonists?
A. This domain is open for everybody, but because it is a rather provocative domain women are not inclined to this type of work and thus we have only one woman cartoonist named Jamilah Azzani who as it seems has retired from this activity but we still hope to have women participating.
I would like to conclude this interview with a comment by the famous Egyptian cartoonist the late Abdulmawnim Rakha who declared that: “Prerequisites of a successful comic strip lies in its enjoyment of full unconditional freedom, for if you are not free the freedom is constrained and the shackles shall remain in your thoughts, hands and every moment of the brush”.