Meet Nougat: Political art as a tool to challenge imperialist diktats
Thirty-six years after Naji Al-Ali's assassination, rising caricaturists still consider him a source of inspiration, such as Mohammad Nouhad Alameddine.
In 1969, the cartoon character Handala of its creator, the Palestinian caricaturist Naji Al-Ali, appeared for the first time in the Kuwaiti Al Seyassah newspaper. According to Al-Ali, Handala is a 10-year-old child with a notion that he will remain 10 years old no matter how many years pass, and he will only start growing up when he returns to Palestine.
The story of Handala is similar to that of Al-Ali, who was forcibly expelled with his family by the Israeli occupation forces from the village of Al-Shajara, located between Tabarayya and Al-Nasirah, when he was ten years old.
“Handala was born ten years old, and he will always be ten years old. At that age, I left my homeland, and when he returns, Handala will still be ten, and then he will start growing up. The laws of nature do not apply to him. He is unique. Things will become normal again when the homeland returns," Al-Ali explained.
In the aftermath of the 1973 war, Handala turned his back on the world with his hands folded behind his back, rejecting US policies to settle the Palestinian cause.
Although Al-Ali created other characters to criticize the occupation and some Arab regimes, none of them hit the fame of Handala.
Handala remained a symbol of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian refugees who dream of returning to their land despite the difficulties and amid the indolence and inaction toward the Palestinian cause. Therefore, we always see Handala sprayed on walls and on chains worn by youths yearning for liberation.
And because Naji Al-Ali's caricatures had a powerful impact on the Israeli occupation and the negligent regimes, which is almost equal to the impact of armed resistance, while the caricaturist was walking on Ives Street in the Knightsbridge area, central London, heading to his office in Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas, at noon on July 22, 1987, he came under heavy gunfire, with one bullet hitting his neck and another hitting his lower right eye. Consequently, he passed out as a result and remained in a coma for about 37 days until his martyrdom was officially announced on August 29.
Al-Ali previously predicted his fate and that of other similar Palestinian intellectuals, when he said, "Whoever wants to write for Palestine and whoever wants to paint for Palestine should know that his fate is death.”
It goes without saying that political art is a tool or a form of activism usually used by the oppressed to express rebellion or a statement that expresses rejection of certain aspects of society or policies in the political system.
The phenomenon of political art resonates across the world, as we notice countless murals that try to communicate revolutionary political ideas and criticize regimes. The moment one lays their eyes on them, they become engraved in their memory, introducing them to a particular political idea and making them very well aware of its background and details. We also see this type of art in newspapers, magazines, and social media. The creators of these drawings are often attacked, harassed, threatened, and even assassinated by the enemies of freedom and justice due to the power and clear influence of this type of art on people.
It is true that Naji Al-Ali was martyred, but his pen has not completely dried up. In fact, 36 years after his assassination, rising caricaturists still look up to him and consider him a source of inspiration, such as Lebanese caricaturist Mohammad Nouhad Alameddine, also known as Nougat.
Walking in the streets of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, one cannot but come across one of Alameddine's drawings about Palestine, the Palestinian cause, and the Resistance, among others. His work is also widely circulated on social media platforms with every event related to resistance.
The 27-year-old currently works as a caricaturist at the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper. When he was just 22, he won the renowned Pierre Sadek Award for Editorial Cartoons in 2018.
Alameddine's drawing talent was discovered by his mother at the age of three when he drew his first ever picture; a fish. His parents then began developing this talent, providing him with books about famous local caricaturists, such as Stavro Jabra and Pierre Sadek, as well as Arab caricaturists, such as Naji Al-Ali and Bahgat Osman, among others. He was also exposed to caricatures on the international level and the way caricaturists there would think and draw.
And after majoring in Illustration and Comics in university, this drawing talent became what he does for a living.
Touching on his drawings, Alameddine explains that any of his drawings begin with an idea derived from a feeling of sorrow and sadness due to certain events taking place.
Considering the fact that his work is focused on the idea of resistance, he told Al Mayadeen English that he believes that "as peoples of this region, our role is to reject foreign diktats and express our own ideas, as in rejecting these diktats or that our land be occupied or refusing to be victims of foreign projects, which have been in place since Sykes-Picot that divided the region and outlined its boundaries Things have been out of our control ever since."
"The main point is to be able to reject these plans through a drawing and to spread the notion of rejection among people," he said while receiving Al Mayadeen English at his house that is full of his artwork.
Discussing the effectiveness of political art, Alameddine said he believed that "an idea, any idea is in itself a powerful entity to be perceived mutually."
He continued, "As they say, an idea never ceases to exist. Even if certain people were killed believing in it, the idea will remain, as it will be carried by others."
"I definitely believe that these drawings are effective, especially if you keep on shedding light on particular events," he stressed.
"I’m aware that a drawing will not topple regimes or change the region, but I believe in the power of the idea, and if an idea became widely circulated in a society, this would definitely change the situation on the ground."
Talking about social media algorithms and policies and their crackdown on pro-Palestine and pro-Resistance art, as well as their effect on the reach of such posts, the Lebanese caricaturist pointed out that the reach is one minor factor in the overall scene, as these Western-owned platforms wouldn't mind eliminating such ideas if they are able to, despite allegedly advocating freedom of speech.
"They have even reached a level where they imposed a ban on writing the word Palestine on Facebook. There are also certain terms and visuals that you cannot use or else they will be breathing down your neck and eventually take down your drawing," he explained.
"They are abolitionists to the level that they won’t just take down your post but they will also wouldn't mind killing you."
In this context, he recalled that Naji El-Ali paid the heaviest price for his stances, which was his life.
Alameddine said he frequently receives encouraging messages from Palestine and other countries over his artwork.
"Honestly, these comments are what give someone motivation to continue what they’re doing, because people involved in the drawing are actually interacting with it, and this for me is the highest level that I can reach on the personal level," he said.
Elsewhere, the caricaturist indicated that at some point, he prefers practicing this type of art with others in the society who share the same ideas and identity as his in order to collaborate and develop further constructive artwork.