Khalid Albaih - Photo by Alejo Arango Courtesy of Khalid Albaih
CAIRO - 3 August 2017: Sudanese political cartoonist and founder of ‘Khartoon,’ Khalid Albaih, shares with Egypt Today how he found the love for art, which he once considered just a hobby, and influenced thousands of people.
Growing up as the youngest child, Albaih resorted to art to keep him company. “I started getting into art first as this loner thing because everyone around me was [significantly] older than me,” he shared, “It was nice to create your own thing for a change.”
He decided to launch Khartoon, a series of satirical cartoons on world politics and society. The name Khartoon is derived from a play on the word on Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, and cartoon.
The creator for Khartoon was heavily influenced by comics. “I never considered myself a good artist, but with comics, it’s about the idea rather than its aesthetics.”
With caricature being a versatile medium that could serve for entertainment or satirical commentary purposes, Albaih utilized the medium’s tools for self expression. He believes, “Comics are for everyone [to enjoy]…a grown man would look at it and would be able to easily relate to it while a child would enjoy and laugh at it because it’s funny.”
Albaih’s interest in art grew over the years as he was being exposed to more artists. His style has constantly reflected the people he likes. “My style has changed so much from when I started, and it depends on who I like; it’s like the saying you are average of the people you spend the most time with,” Albaih explained.
Furthermore, Albaih criticizes the common perception of art as a marginalized sector of society."Everyone believes that artists have their own world, and I hate how we are always associated with the ‘art world,’ because this only separates art from society when art is suppose to be for everyone,” he continued.
Although the definition of art has been altered regularly from the Prehistoric Art period, circa 2500 BC, to the post modern contemporary period which started roughly in the mid-20th century, art has always served as a depiction of reality. Through comics, a form of pop art/neo-dada art movement that started in the 1950s, Albaih was able to share his critics on modern day politics.
Pop art movement aims to decentralize art culture by blurring the lines between what is considered “high art culture,” which is the art that is admired by the social elites and aristocrats, and “low culture,” pertaining to the form of art that is available to the masses and easily comprehensible by those who lack an art history background.
Not only that, but pop art relied heavily on borrowing concepts from other art work. Albaih commented, “…Some people consider it copying, but there is a difference between copying someone and stealing the idea and making it your own. It’s like what Pablo Picasso once said ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal’.”
Beyond cartoons, Albaih has experimented with other art media including video art, installations, and literature.” Being the head of Installation and Design at Public Art [in Doha, Qatar] has exposed it to many artists and art forms.”
Now, Albaih is writing a book in collaboration with writers Hussam Hilali and Larissa Fuhrmann from the program department of the Goethe-Institut called “Sudan Untold/Retold” that is due to be published in December this year. The book is the “first graphic novel on Sudanese history” that tracks history through the words and eyes of Sudanese artists. “With this book, I am trying to feature as many Sudanese artists to get more of them out there,” Albaih acknowledged.
It's no surprise that the Sudanese art scene is going through a pivotal renaissance. Artists from different fields such as film, music and visual art are slowly crawling out of their boxes to show Sudan and the world what they can do. “People want to do things, but there is no support,” Albaih explained, “…but they need nurturing and not just that, they need to have academia, experience and the opportunity to showcase their work because it is hard being an artist. So a whole ecosystem has to be designed for the community as a whole.”