During a revolution, art can be a versatile and dynamic tool. In many cases, revolutionary ideas come about as a response to limited expression. Citizens no longer feel like their voices are heard by those in control or that their voices are being silenced in some way. Humans need to express themselves. We are social creatures and cannot be forced to keep our thoughts and feelings internalized. So, in times of revolution, people turn to various means of expression to release their anger, frustration and realizations into a social space. Khalid Albaih chose art as his tool during the Arab Spring. He is a political cartoonist and is now known worldwide for his cartoons. He chose art as his tool of expression because he knew that this was a way he could contribute to and impact the revolution. He saw the functions that art could serve in this time of unrest and although at times he did not feel like he was doing enough, his art made a definite impact in the Middle East and across the globe.
Art is often one of the first modes of protest. It illustrates feelings and thoughts about a situation differently than can be done with only words. Albaih’s art illustrates his thoughts and feelings in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, thought-provoking and symbolic. Some are more serious than others, but there is always a depth that requires some analysis past the surface. One must focus on his cartoons, taking time to admire the cognitive and physical work that went into its creation before he/she can get the full and personal experience. Albaih created and continues to create these cartoons to perform a few specific functions. Originally, his works were simply created to catch the viewer’s attention and persuade them to look into pressing issues. He wanted people to talk about his drawings and the topics they focused around. This started a dialogue. Eventually, his works became symbols for revolution during the Arab Spring. He created these to inspire his people to fight for their rights and for the rights of those around them. Art can give people a visual representation of their struggle and this can be reprinted countless times until the image comes to embody the revolution. It can become a visual that people rally around and feel unified by. Whether the cartoons are actively revealing social injustice through intense and often unsettling visuals or simply pointing out flawed mechanisms in the current political regime, they can serve as a rallying point where the thoughts of many can be illustrated by a single depiction.
Albaih also realized that as his art became more well-known around the world, its function was expanding. His art could give the uninformed a window into the world of the revolution. This view would not be plagued with the doublespeak of the media or the interpretations of those looking in. Instead, his art could provide a personal and informed expression of the disorder and injustice occurring all around him. Not only is he inspiring his people to continue the fight back home, but he is also informing others so that they can support the revolution. As illustrated by Albaih, art can function in many ways to support the efforts of a revolution. This function can be exhortative, unifying, revealing, informative or a combination of these. No matter the specific function, expression is powerful, why else would some political regimes work so hard to limit it?