Q&A with Political Cartoonist Khalid Albaih

Albaih’s work is featured in the Winter/Spring 2018 issue of the CCAS Newsmagazine. He kindly took a few minutes to chat with CCAS about his art.

Khalid Albaih (@khalidalbaih) is a Sudanese artist and political cartoonist born in Bucharest, Romania. Albaih is based in Doha, where he formerly served as Head of Public Art for Qatar Museums Authority. He currently lives and works in Denmark as the ICORN/PEN Artist in Residence for the city of Copenhagen. Albaih’s cartoons, published under the name “Khartoon!”—

Photo of Khalid Albaih
Credit: Stefan Ruiz

a play on the words “cartoon” and “Khartoum,” the capital of Sudan—have appeared widely in international publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic, PRI, NPR, and BBC. In addition, Albaih has published social and political commentaries in The Guardian and Al Jazeera, among other places. His work has been exhibited in numerous group and solo exhibitions around the world, from New Delhi and Tokyo, to London, Boston, and Dearborn, to name only a few. Khalid is also the founder of @DohaFashionFridays and co-founder of Khartoum Art & Design Center.

By Vicki Valosik

How did growing up in a political family influence your path to becoming a political cartoonist?

For me, politics was the reason I didn’t have a home, and I wanted to understand what that meant. I had an uncle who was a Communist, supposedly on his way back to becoming the president of Sudan after a coup. I had another uncle who became interim president and was an Islamist. My own family had everyone—Islamists, Communists. I was in the middle and I just wanted to learn about both of them. When I came to Doha, there were around ten nationalities in my class—Egyptians, Palestinians, Indians, Pakistanis. Most ex-pats in Qatar are there because of political reasons or because they just want to make a living and get away from the politics of the Arab world, so nobody wanted to talk about politics. One thing that we all shared though was satire.  We all had the same jokes—just with different presidents. For me, that was the starting point.

How have the Internet and social media platforms created new spaces for political cartoonists?

Growing up, we had a really hard time obtaining visas and traveling, but in Qatar, the Internet was pretty advanced. In chatrooms, we could speak to people in all corners of the world. It became our plane ticket and opened our eyes to a lot of things. We lived through the different stages of the Internet, from chatrooms to forums to blogging to social media and microblogging, and took advantage of the open spaces that we didn’t have in real life. I started my Facebook page and went from having a few friends to having now around 80,000. It gave me a chance to give our news from us, to say, “This is what’s happening here.” To do that, I chose cartoons because they are the simplest form of communication, and I can use the least words possible. I posted [my first cartoon] online and it was kind of like jumping over a communication barrier, over a wall of language. The Internet opened that door, but after the Arab Spring, things started to change. The government caught on to what was happening on social media and the Internet, made regulations, and arrested a lot of people for tweeting and writing. Now the Internet itself, with its privacy rules and algorithms, has added to our tunnel vision. Basically, if you like Trump, you’ll always get news about Trump. If you like Hillary, you’ll always get news about Hillary. For me, putting a cartoon out there, if you like what I like, then you’ll see my work. It wasn’t like that before.

Cover of the Winter/Spring 2018 CCAS Newsmagazine
Albaih’s work featured on the cover of the Winter/Spring 2018 CCAS Newsmagazine
What challenges do you face with your art?

I have been doing a cartoon a day for ten years, but nothing changes. Assad is still bombing, Putin is still Putin, Trump is still Trump. What we loved about the Internet and Twitter was citizen journalism, and that rarely exists now. It’s this hashtag or trending thing today, and tomorrow it’s something else. Our attention span got shorter with all the social media and the Internet, and we have to run to keep up with what’s new. When we started on the Internet, we were challenging the status quo of the old media. But now, what are we challenging? We are running on the hamster wheel they made for us. I’m still doing my art, but I’m also trying to find new ways of communicating. I’m working with other artists on a book about the history of Sudan, and I’m trying to start a public library [in Sudan] and a platform for artists. I’m trying to work on all these physical projects because just being on the Internet is not the solution. I don’t think it is as powerful as it used to be.

 

Vicki Valosik is CCAS Multimedia and Publications Editor.

This interview was also published in the Winter/Spring 2018 CCAS Newsmagazine.