Carlos Latuff is on Twitter. The social network that had helped many participants of the January 25 Revolution relay their story to thousands in only a few seconds has also helped get one of the most prominent international political cartoonists on board with the Egyptian revolution.
In the heat of the fight to topple former president Hosni Mubarak, the Brazilian Latuff was personally requested via Twitter by several activists to draw cartoons of the all-too-familiar figure in support of the revolution. In response, he came up with an entire series of cartoons. Among them were depictions of Mubarak getting tripped up in the wires of the technology that he tried to shut down and Mubarak getting hit in the face with a shoe with the label ‘Jan 25.’ Perhaps the most famous one shows the late Khaled Said, a victim of police brutality, holding up a tiny figure of Mubarak trying to wiggle away.
These images may look familiar as they had been paraded across the streets of the nation during the January 25 protests, and until today Latuff continues to support the Egyptian people in their calls for democracy, fair trials and reforms. One of his latest cartoons for Egypt was also inspired by young Twitter activists who were complaining that their parents refuse to let them go to the protests on July 8. The cartoon shows a girl holding a backpack and running towards the protests while saying sorry to mom and dad.
The 42-year-old Latuff was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With a knack for drawing since he was in kindergarten and a deep interest in political issues, it was only natural that Latuff get into political cartoons.
He began creating cartoons for leftist trade union bulletins in his hometown in 1990, and from then on began expanding his political interest. In 1999, Latuff took a trip to the West Bank that altered his perception and as a result, his whole career. “I saw with my own eyes how Palestinians live under brutal Israeli occupation,” says Latuff. “Impossible to see it and not to feel myself moved to support that people.” From then on, Latuff began focusing heavily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with cartoons about the Gaza blockade and Palestinian children as victims. Among the most poignant is his series depicting different ethnic groups that have been oppressed throughout history — for example, Native Americans, Vietnamese and African Americans — saying, “We are all Palestinian.”Although his interest in the fight of the Arab people is often credited to his Middle Eastern ancestry, Latuff says, “It has nothing to do with my descent.” Latuff’s grandfather was Lebanese, but Latuff says the man passed away before he could even meet him.
Still, the cartoonist would like to visit the region more often, specifically Palestine, but says his political stance makes that impossible. “Unfortunately, due to my cartoons and criticism towards Israel, I have little or no chances to enter Palestine again,” he says. Instead, Latuff most recently visited Jordan and Lebanon in 2009 to volunteer out at Palestinian refugee camps.
Even without his physical presence, Latuff’s message still travels across the region, and the most recent exhibition of his work was held in his honor in the West Bank’s Ramallah this past March.
Additionally, his work has been published in newspapers and magazines around the world such as the Brazilian edition of Mad magazine, The Toronto Star in Canada and the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar.
Latuff also makes his work available online through private blogs and websites, such as deviantART, and has made his cartoons “copyleft” — a play on the word copyright, meaning that they are free for use and distribution.
From Rio to Cairo
Before the revolution, Latuff’s work was not that well known in Egypt, but it quickly gained popularity as demonstrators would hold his cartoons up during protests, and other people would share and comment on them on social networks and blogs.
“What really inspires me is the possibility of making cartoons which will be useful for protesters worldwide,” says Latuff. “In January, for example, I made a series of cartoons against Mubarak, most of them were used by protesters in the streets, and now I’m producing artworks against arbitrary acts committed by the military junta.”One of Latuff’s most recent cartoon commentaries on the country features a relaxed-looking Mubarak floating in a swimming pool as a man dressed in military uniform serves him juice, with the ‘Sharm El-Sheikh Hospital’ building in the background while the cartoon reads, “Solidarity with Mubarak.”
Latuff’s cartoons, which dress his message with wit and a subtle sense of humor, mesh well with the Egyptian people’s own classic sense of humor, manifested in their witty and often-sarcastic chants, graffiti and signs during the revolution.Aside from a few laughs, the cartoonist also does not shy away from controversy, even in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro. Latuff has been called into questioning at police stations on three separate occasions regarding police brutality and corruption — themes all too familiar in Egypt as well.
“To speak out against police brutality in Brazil is a real taboo, you can be censored or even shot dead,” Latuff says. But the cartoonist is willing to risk that to spread his message and encourage other forms of expression. “Cartoons are better at addressing messages in a clearer and quicker way, but I believe everything must be used together, photos, writings, songs, etc.,” he says.
Particularly in Egypt, Latuff believes that any form of expression is quite crucial at this moment. “What happened in Egypt, and is still happening, is that people have had their voices silenced for too long [...], but people are now realizing about their own power,” says Latuff. “There’s no way back for Arabs now they are taking control of their own lives and history.”
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