We Are All Seen

Khalid Albaih, June 3, 2019.
The June 3 massacre in Khartoum in which the militia raided the demonstrations,
murdering more than 100 people.

Cartoonists go through a coming of age rite of their very own. 

They come of age, when they make the painful realization that humankind will never change. They have been drawing with intensity through a crisis, engaging in every aspect of it, only to come out on the other side realizing that nothing much has changed. 

That first realization brings despair and a feeling of uselessness. Why even bother? 

Last summer the turn came to Khalid Albaih. He had been an activist of the pen from 2009 and went on to visualize the unfolding of the Arab Spring. Tunisia gained a new constitution, but Egypt was left with a new autocrat and Syria... is a slaughterhouse by the hand of their dictator aided by Russia and Iran. Then the Saudi Crown Prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi murdered. The powerful proved as powerful as ever.

Khalid Albaih, Proposal; the army loves the chair, 2011.
A cartoon from the onset of the Arab Spring and as relevant as always.
Dictators clinging to power and the military clinging to them.

At the time of fearing for the fate of Khashoggi, we were preparing the first collection of Khalid's works for the book Khartoon! His many many cartoons weaved themselves into a novel on greed and corruption; the same two ingredients that were rejecting people the most basic rights in life. Seeing the amount of his own work compared to the situation in the world to which was added the fact that it had forced him into exile, Khalid was sighing from the pointlessness of it all.

But every time a cartoonist makes that sighing, something invariably takes place and they are off again. This time all the stronger a voice. Now transformed into the seasoned cartoonist, there is insight and calm with a body of work at hand. The arguments have been made. If asked, they would not even remember that the sighing took place.

In this instance the Sudanese began to take to the streets to demand freedom after 30 years of an autocratic ruler. For one, he is accused of genocide by the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Now his own countrymen decided that his time was up.

It has been magnificent to experience the new maturity with which Khalid is speaking and drawing. He was always an inquiring cartoonist, insisting on speaking from insight with readiness to know more. Now he is a voice of encouragement, of calm and of wisdom.

He is speaking to those inside Sudan, who have been met with counter-attacks of violence and murder and have been without Internet for weeks and still they are taking to the streets. He is speaking to the diaspora of those, who like himself had had to leave and to the world at large. He is placing the Sudanese people at the center of his attention. "Finally, my political cartoons on Sudan could focus on someone other than a dictator", he wrote in an article for aljazeera.com.

There is now a "you" as an entity to which he uses direct speech: You have hope and you have it in you to... - to continue the fight and to know to do the right thing, while he emphasizes the right and the need to take time to heal. The World, on the other hand, is the one who needs to pull itself together: "Come on, World" and "Know, World...".

He is constantly emphasizing to every party involved - including that inactive World - that they are seen.
Khalid Albaih, The Bullfighters, February 22, 2019.
The movement of the Sudanese flag comes from the people demonstrating.
The flag and the people form into one and in the opposing corner of the picture plane
the government military units are attacking them. 

An important aspect of his seeing is pointing to each of the ones culpable in the political situation. 

They are the alliances, which happen to be the protagonists we know from all other conflicts today. The responsible ones are given every level of drawn specificity.  The color palette itself is detailed. Added to this we see their slippers and each joint of their hands. The anti-democrats appear dainty, almost fragile. We see them as only too human in their thirst for power. 

They have no superhuman powers, just alliances. 

Khalid Albaih, Recycling, April 27, 2019.
The Emirates and the Saudi help the transitional military council is recycling al-Bashir's old faces.
The movement around the recycle bin forms a recycling sign of its own.

The alliances weave a pattern of transactions reaching back and forth across continents. Knowing every level of who is paid by whom is all the more important to understand the reason for their latest move. The amount of detailed, multi-colored cartoons made for his Sudanese countrymen as well as the World at large forms into a comic.

A series added to day by day of those same personalities, each of whom act from reasons that are no longer too much to grasp, but only too known.

An important aspect of making the Sudanese themselves known they are seen is giving them visual monuments from which to draw strength. They are drawn at once light and elegant as the matadors to whom the movement of their society rightfully belongs. They are drawn as statuesque too in the first cartoon above. The solid tree trunk from which everything grows. A statue of freedom from where the flag billows to the sky. They aspire just as they call out in pain. The soldier cutting down their aspirations is their very opposite. The violence is all darkness, cutting them from the back. Just as for the bull, the military remains low on the ground.

Hope and violence in one, it is the monument of the first half year of demonstrations for freedom and dignity. 

Khalid Albaih, January 15, 2019.
"Sudan peaceful protesters are being targeted with extreme brutality and violence
and answering back with extreme satire and creativity".

Khalid is adding to the novel of our time. General and philosophical while specific too. He continues to place not himself, but the people at the center. The mutual we such as in all of Sudan siding with satire. In this too they have proven their ability to react with creativity. The cartoon right above is combining an element from an old cartoon - the violent force - with the new, collective Sudan taking a victory lap.

So far we have only seen the first round. There is the need to heal, but no reason for the world to define the demonstrations as a mere instance before turning to another piece of news. This is part of a longer and mightier draw and the world needs to keep up its concentration. Counter-moves of the militia are not ending what has begun.

An agreement has been reached between the ruling generals and a coalition of the civilian opposition groups to share the governing power until elections shall be held in 18 months. Until then, we all have a task at hand:


Khalid Albaih has given his cartoons free to be shared.

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