It's Not Funny

"Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler"

Khalid Wad Albaih, Who should I be today? February 12, 2015.

And this is where the struggle between those claiming power and the cartoonist sets in. The latter is Khalid Wad Albaih, whom we have met on this blog as the artist behind the best definition of democracy I have seen to date (that impossible task, drawing democracy, but he nailed it); not to mention mapping the 21st century so far and pointing out the IS/Daesh as killers of Islam.

On May 1 his special exhibition It's Not Funny opened at The Arab American National Museum, which is a joyful occasion to take a look back at his recent works and see how closely the notion of identity is linked to his distinction between simplicity and the simplistic.

Just look at the head of this blog post with the first drawing above and sense the lightness and shine emanating from it, as if it radiates a room for calm and openness. Khalid transforms his reflections onto the picture plane, posing genuine questions to us. Which is not at all to be misunderstood as his drawings being insecure or without bite. On the contrary, he is an intellectual in the original meaning of the word, putting his analyses out to us wondering each time if this can be right, how this can be true, directly inviting us as beholders to join in. When asked about his intentions for a drawing, he will laugh politely and return the interest to the beholder him- or herself.

Which makes his questioning all the more painful such as in the drawing above. There is no way the lining up of identities will add up; each one of them is imposed upon him, except from the one he as a Sudanese would dearly wish to take on; only that particular one is impossible given his status as a cartoonist in exile.

At once a compositional technique and content, the questioning finds its antithesis in the notion of identity. Identity turns out to be a tool. It is part of an agenda in the hands of those in power, shaping others to serve their own needs and intentions. It hardly gets any more simplistic than this.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Musical Chairs - 12 years after the fall of Baghdad,
April 9, 2015.

The cartoonist then takes the labellers on their own word. They too are denied a face in his art, exposing them as empty outfits with nothing but a void where the eyes should have been. They are defined by their power games in which the one is no different from the others as seen above.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Saudi Flag, March 26, 2015.
In breaking up positionings taken by power, Khalid Wad Albaih has a weak spot when it comes to those seemingly solid, seemingly untouchable planes that constitute national flags. What is in a flag after all? By making even the subtlest of change, removing the reverie of the ceremonial sword for the presence of oil, nobility for money, while fighting disrupts all intention of unity; well then, the flags are no longer planes before us, but seen for what they are: Layers of ambition.

Khalid Wad Albaih, ISIS destroying Iraq historical sites, March 8, 2015.

And so Khalid himself is right now in the US, having reflected upon the latest uprising on that continent placing another uniform before us, this time hooded along with that cross of hatred. Note, how detailed the figure is. Wristwatch, police badge and firearms, and we see it all in spite of the diminutiveness of the image. There is a calmness, there is room to discern it all. We can actually sense the stubbornness of the figure through its detailing, void as it is within:

Khalid Wad Albaih, Baltimore Uprising, April 30, 2015.

It is not funny! - the title is poking at us, inviting us into the discussion. The link to it is right below, and oh, I cannot enough recommend seeing the exhibition if you happen to be in its vicinity:

It's Not Funny: Political Cartoons by Khalid Wad Albaih,
May 1- July 30, 2015
The Arab American National Museum

The Khartoons shown are courtesy of Khalid Wad Albaih and must not be reproduced without his permission.

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