"We were perfect"

Khalid Wad Albalbaihih, The Perfect Arab Citizen. Still from the EURO-ARAB Dialogue Forum.

- was the first image shown when Khalid Wad Albaih spoke at the EURO-ARAB Dialogue Forum on November 27, arranged by the Lutfia Rabbani Foundation. He was accompanied by the musician Zid al Tayem.

What strikes one when seeing his drawings from 2011 - just one of those shown in this blogpost are from 2014 -  is the stringency of Khalid's iconography to a degree that his cartoons refer to each other in pairs. The earliest ones have a counterpart drawn at a later date; the former defining the problem at hand, while the latter is reflecting on outcomes and future possibilities.

And yet both of them are barely there.
Khalid Wad Albaih, Oppression, Revolution, Reforms. 
Still from the EURO-ARAB Dialogue Forum

In aesthetic terms Khalid Wad Albaih is a minimalist, although on its own that term is by now so generic that I would rather stress his analytic aesthetics, which fittingly is a philosophical discipline. Each cartoon from his hand is an investigation into what an image can. How it is never a solid, but sets up a traffic point for exchange.

Such as creating visibility of non-presence. The trinity of "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" is here contourless, consisting of black filler that bares the gagging. The knots keeping the pieces of cloth tight are the main features of the cartoon. They are the epitomes of figures of no importance. Perfect according to a certain intention, as it were.

And then half a year later, when nothingness had defined itself as being under "oppression" and "revolution" had been attempted, the mouth opened with the body in movement for the first time, "reforms" turned out to be the outcome. With a nice ring to it and in the plural, only we see all too well the reality of them.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Tunis Revolution, January 25. 2011.

None of his figures confront us. They all look away. There is no shock effect; as beholders we are being led along the picture plane to partake in the analysis, he is laying out to us. The unravelling octopus, drawn on the very date when the Tunisian protests spread to Egypt, while the reason it was made possible is seen below. It was as clear as math, as Khalid states in his lecture:

Khalid Wad Albaih, The Winning Equation of the 2011 Arab Revolution,
February 23, 2011.

Symbols or imagery not just known, but the two of them are known only now. Their history is as long as the Arab Spring more or less. The emergence of social media made the uprisings possible and this is thus the very formula of why and how. Each symbol has a seemingly solid visual presence, but by being placed in the equation, they are perceived as symbols of opening and of reaching beyond as new places for interaction.

And so the dictators have their portraits made as stenciled graffiti as seen through the eyes of those lining them up:

Khalid Wad Albaih, The Arab Spring PacMan, June 15, 2011.

Khalid Wad Albaih has even given the Arab Spring its very own specific piece of imagery. It is a play on a word, it is in movement, and it employs the left fisted hand that has been the symbol of revolution since 1968/69. 

It employs all three of W.J.T. Mitchell's basic classifications on the relationship of words and imagery. It is at once disjunctive, a rupture playing with us, as it is a relation, grasped as a conjunction, and since the spring implies energetic movement to create a difference, we see a synthetic identification of visual and verbal codes. 

The real question is after all not the difference between word and image, as Mitchell continues, but how it matters. What does it matter that they are juxtaposed, blended or separated? In this case it is the very playing against each other that creates the cartoon. The spring is not the one thing and it is certainly not a given one; it is an insistence, unfolding the energy to instigate, constantly evolving, but with no promises of solutions as revolutions tends to go. There is always the risk of its bouncing back. 

Khalid Wad Albaih, The Arab Spring on the Rise, October 6, 2011.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Egypt Sentences More than 680 People to Death,
May 1, 2014. Published for Muftah Magazine.

And so the cartoon of now, when history gets juxtaposed with the noose. A pure formalistic take, which happens to reverse its significance from one of eternal life to one of willed death.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Almost There...
This is for all the Dictators, your time is near...
September 13, 2011.

This is a tale of no closure, no completion. Albeit that already implies drawing a conclusion, in that the revolution may seem a lost case in most places, but with the insistence that a revolution does not happen overnight. It is an ongoing process with the "thou must"-finger of recycling for inspiration.

"What keeps you hopeful?" Khalid was asked after his lecture.

"We have nothing else" was his answer.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Recycle the Revolution, November 21, 2011.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Khalid Wad Albaih and must not be reproduced without his permission. The ones shown and so much more of his work can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/KhalidAlbaih.

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