Female Yemeni caricaturists’ talents finally uncovered [Archives:2006/1004/Culture]

December 4 2006
The viewers are favorably impressed by the trainees cartoons. YT Photos
The viewers are favorably impressed by the trainees cartoons. YT Photos
The drawings of Omya Juha illustrated Palestinian issues.
The drawings of Omya Juha illustrated Palestinian issues.
Nisreen Shadad
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In order to have Yemeni women well versed in the art of caricature, Women Journalists Without Chains arranged a first training course in Nov. 26-30 on the basics of drawing caricatures.

The five-day course involved umpteen activities to qualify women caricaturists with the necessary skills and give them the ability to proceed in accordance with contemporary developments and changes in Yemeni society.

In addition to being the course designer, caricaturist and plastic artist Hameed Al-Maswari served as trainer, along with fellow plastic artist Amani Al-Baba. The 16 trainees produced approximately 90 caricatures, exhibiting them on the final day of the course. They reflected social issues such as price increases, family violence and freedom of journalism and, without exception, all touched on Palestinian issues.

Guest of honor, Palestinian caricaturist Omaya Juha, couldn't lead several theoretical and practical lectures as she planned because she was unable to leave her homeland, she spoke with trainees via mobile phone. “I had hoped to see your faces, but I encountered many difficulties in trying to come to Yemen. However, I'm proud to be with you in spirit and have my drawings presented in my second home in Yemen,” she said.

As trainee Samira Abdu Al-Fatah explained, Juha served as an example for trainees to stand up for what they believe. “We waited for her until the last day, the day of the exhibition, but due to the colonialism [in Palestine], she couldn't attend the course. However, that will never break her spirit, nor ours. I can see her now, standing firm, so I drew her as a candle burning to illuminate our way. The key she used to draw in all of her caricatures is the key of hope to return to Palestine. I used her symbol – the key – to depict the candle's shadow in order to identify her and reflect the issue for which she's struggling.”

Al-Maswari prepared the course materials, which sought to give trainees an awareness of caricature art. “The materials I prepared and taught were based on the basics of caricature and its schools – the American and English schools – as well as line quality, since a particular type of line can add a very dynamic look to a drawing. I also focused on composition, one of the most important features of caricature. Boring composition kills the drawing's life and energy. Having an aim also is one of the points I stressed. It must be simple so that anyone can grasp the idea.”

Al-Baba added, “The aim we're all working for is to qualify a group of women caricaturists and join them with the journalism field.”

Despite being vastly important to illustrate daily problems and pitiful conditions, very few caricatures appear in Yemeni newspapers. Tawakol Karman, the director of Women Journalists Without Chains, explained, “There are more than 20 newspapers, but few of them are interested in caricatures. Fewer than five caricaturists work in this field – all men – and each is working for at least two newspapers.

“Whenever a woman appears on this field, she doesn't continue because she lacks the tools and the necessary skills to comprehend the genre, which is developing very fast and has expanded to include political, social, economic and even personal satire. Once working, most women caricaturists end up drawing for children's magazines rather than a newspaper,” she added.

Regarding obstacles women journalists face, training course co-coordinator Nabeela Sa'eed stated, “The real obstacle is financial. Besides, the idea of a woman caricaturist is something new in our society. Many people don't accept it, but we're working to enhance the role of women in this field.”

Coming from various governorates, including Sana'a, Taiz and Hodeidah, trainees attended the course in the belief that they can do something and make a difference in their society.

Al-Fatah, a mother of two from Hodeidah, stated, “My husband stands beside me, but he sometimes tries to stop me. My mother is the one who pushes me the most not to despair and to struggle until my dream comes true.” Though her sister, housewife Zahra Abdu Al-Fatah, wasn't very interested, she attended the course to support her sister.

Abdullah Al-Khawlani, a doctor at the National Institute for Management Science, remarked, “Because I was living outside Yemen for 10 years, I only recently learned that my daughter is an artist. I'm so glad to have such a daughter who's trying to reflect our social, economic and political problems. As a father, I thank (Women Journalists Without Chains)because they're working to uncover talent and make it flourish. However, I vehemently criticize those in charge of media and culture for ignoring such talented individuals. It's a picture of the government ignoring its citizens.”

However, Al-Maswari noted that producing a caricaturist in such a brief time period requires more effort. “I was fed up in the beginning because trainees lacked ideas to draw about; however, they quickly took a turn for the better. I expect that they'll excel in this field and at least three will be famous in a very short time,” he predicted.

Exhibit attendees like Mohammed Abdu, a Sana'a University student in the Faculty of Art's archaeology department, were impressed with the caricatures. “Though I'm not an artist, I see the trainees' creativity. They take the brunt of the problems we face and the pains of Yemenis and consequently, reflect on them.” Sana'a University commerce student Lubna Hussein appreciated the works because they discussed social and political issues.

Attendee Jamal Isa, representative of the Hamas office, felt at home because all of the trainees illustrated Palestine's daily pain. “I can see the interest in Palestinian issues. Yemeni pens have illustrated fairly their feelings about the sorrows and pains our nation is suffering under colonialism. Such strong feelings reflect the zeal in their hearts to intervene and support Palestine.”

He continued “The absence of Palestinian caricaturist Omaya Juha is only a symbol of what we suffer under the siege. She waited more than a week, carrying dozens of her pictures, but in vain. I hope this exhibition creates a new burst of serious and modest art directed at Islamic world issues.

“The exhibit also reflects that we aren't the only ones who suffer and think of Palestinian issues. We have a family here in Yemen that also experiences our sustained pain. Art is an effective language that can provide numerous ways to communicate with others. It is going beyond barriers and limits to reach people's hearts and minds,” he concluded.