Loud Laughs [Archives:1998/15/Culture]

April 13 1998

Samer Mohammed Abdo Saeed is only 21. Yet, he has made his mark on the world of cartoons and satire in the local media. He is a caricaturist at Al-Belagh newspaper and a teacher of art at Al-Ola private school. Samer began his artistic life by trying to convince a number of Yemeni newspapers. He hopped from one to another as he could not get full appreciation. He worked for Al-Wahda, Al-Naqid Al-Arabi, Al-Ayyam, Al-Ra’ia, and the Osama children’s comic magazine, for which he still works.
Samer’s cartoons combine political, social and economic issues. He gets his ideas from the agonies of the people, as he said.
Dr. Salah Haddash of Yemen Times interviewed Samer and filed the following:
Q: How did you start drawing cartoons?
A: At first, the cartoonist Ahmed Al-Hamed encouraged me to draw cartoons for newspapers. I was first influenced by an Egyptian caricaturist Mustafa Hussein who works for Al-Hayat newspaper. I was also influenced by the caricaturist of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Ahmed Hussein.
Q: On what issues do you focus in drawing cartoons?
A: My focus is in political caricatures. I mainly criticize the widespread corruption in Yemen. But I also address social and economic issues. I draw my ideas from the agonies of the people.
Q: How widespread is this art in Yemen?
A: This art began to spread in Yemen after the unification. In the past, there were few cartoonists. Today, many cartoonists began to command good presence in the newspapers.
Q: Have you participated in any exhibitions or competitions?
A: No. But, I corresponded with some Arabic newspapers. There was a festival for caricaturists in Lebanon, but I could not participate. I really hope that a special exhibition for cartoons will be held in the future.
Q: You published a book of your cartoons. Can you tell us about this book?
A: My book ” Loud Laughs” was published at the end of 1997. 52 of my 500 major cartoons are included. The book deals with various issues; corruption, the crisis of the Middle East, and problems of students in Yemen. Yemen radio and local newspapers talked about my book, not the TV though. This is mainly because they think that poetry of praise to the politicians is more important than caricatures. This is a mistake. Cartoons do play a significant role in life. Sometimes, you can embody many great ideas in one cartoon.
Q: Have you gained financially from this book?
A: My main purpose was to prove myself as a serious caricaturist in the Yemen scene. I did not get any money from this book. But making profit is not a priority for me at this moment.
Q: Are there any other books devoted to cartoons published by Yemeni writers?
A: Yes, there are. There is a very wonderful book by a Yemeni writer. In this book, the writer talked about all Yemeni and Arabic caricaturists.
Q. What was the theme of your last cartoon?
A: My last cartoon is a contrast between people who try their best to build the economy of our country on one hand, and people who play a parasitic role and destroy it on the other hand.
Q. How do you evaluate the government attention to this art?
A: Unlike many Arab countries, the authorities in this country do not pay any attention to art in general, and cartoons in particular. Yemeni artists are not given any support to express themselves, either here or abroad. Even a chance to establish an association for Yemeni cartoonists is not available. In short, there is little support for this art in Yemen.
The problem is doubly difficult because the market for this service is not yet developed.
Q: Have you worked for official newspapers?
A: When I applied to work for Al-Thawra newspaper, they told me that there was no vacancy for me. I told them that I just want to make a name for myself through the newspaper even if they do not pay me. But, they did not respond. So, I decided to work for other newspapers. I produced some cartoons published in opposition newspapers, thus giving me some presence in the mind of readers.
Q: Do you work or coordinate with other young Yemeni cartoonists?
A: Yes, I try. During Al-Ola school’s exhibition, there was a 12-year old student who made really good cartoons. I tried to help him. I would like to work more with other cartoonists.
Q: Any last word?
A: I would like to call on the government to pay more attention to art, especially cartoons. Second, I hope that Yemeni cartoonists will establish their own association.