Khalid Albai is a truly remarkable character. His artworks is nothing short of inspiring, and his global reach is fascinating. His work and character and inherently politically-driven and smart. Albai’s work is motivating to anyone considering graphic art and exemplifies the power of communication that exists beyond words.
Albai’s work became famous through the internet. He has had pieces go viral several times, enough that it isn’t special to him anymore and is more of an annoyance in some ways. His Facebook page has (x) number of followers, his Twitter (x), and his Instagram (x). Needless to say, Khaled is extremely popular online and has worked extremely hard to get to this point of internet fame.
What I found interesting about Khaled’s lecture and his work in general is his use of language and how he communicates his ideas. In full disclosure, I am somewhat of a linguistics nerd. I have always found language interesting as a form of communication and was intrigued by Khaled’s deliberate attempts to use as few words as possible in his work. Historically, humans have depicted their lives through images and symbols rather than letters. The earliest information we can gather about humans come from cave paintings across the world. They include raw depictions of daily lives of hunters and gatherers chasing their prey, representations of family structures, and ancient religious symbology. The most famous pictographic history is probably the Egyptian hieroglyphs that are so throughly studied in the Western world as a result of colonialism. When British explorers found tombs with walls covered in coded symbols, the temptation of academic pursuit was too much to resist. The idea of using symbols to represent larger ideas is a tradition that continues to today, we just have to look to modern Chinese where symbols represent entire words rather than sounds as they do in the Latin alphabet.
However, Khaled’s use of language is also important to note. As he stated during the lecture, “we speak your language but you don’t speak ours”. In some ways, these images are really designed for the Western viewer to gain some insight into the world that they have no access to. English, an imperialist language, is widely spoken around the world, meaning that very few native speakers must learn another language simply out of necessity.
There is something that resonates on a human level about pictographic art and communication; it can be understood by a wider group, whether the audience is illiterate or just cosmopolitan. As our world has grown more interconnected and our societies have become more reliant on those different from our own, maybe graphic imagery is the solution to the problems created in the biblical story of the tower of Babel. Graphic imagery with as few words as possible can be a connector for people around the world. Work like Khaled’s demands a reaction from anyone who sees it, regardless of where they are positioned in the world.