Before Khalid Ali’s lecture on his artwork, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about how a political cartoon can have potency in a revolutionary context. However, after listening to Mr. Ali’s talk, I gained a newfound appreciation for the medium of political cartoons as vehicles for change, and I learned a lot about the history of the Arab Spring revolutions as well.
What was great about Mr. Ali’s work was that it was not artistically overdone, pretentiously intellectual, or needlessly complicated in any way. Each piece of his political cartoons were simple, straightforward, easy to understand, and had a self-contained message that was simple to digest. Artistically, they were simple enough for other revolutionaries to recreate. For example, his piece depicting the Egyptian president was easy enough to reproduce and had a punchy, potent message. This led to his work getting picked up by other protestors, and eventually spray-painted in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
I think Mr. Ali’s perspective as a cartoonist also gives him an interesting point of view regarding his own role in revolutions. His work blurs the line between propaganda, art, intellectualism, and politics. Part of why his works were so successful during the Arab spring was because it was one of the first large-scale popular uprisings that took place over social media and used viral media tactics to spread its message. For a political cartoonist like Ali, this is a unique opportunity, because the revolutionary medium through which the uprising took place was one already saturated with the traits of a uniquely technological environment. In an internet medium like facebook or twitter, a slew of content is constantly vying for a users’ attention, and content like political cartoons are perfect for it because cartoons can convey a simple yet potent message in a visual medium, which allows them to keep the users’ attention long enough to deliver a revolutionary message in a short span of time.
One point that Khalid made about the Arab Spring in particular stuck out to me as insightful. He was asked the question, “Has the Arab Spring failed?” which he responded to by saying that revolutions take time. I thought this was particularly insightful in light of the many pessimistic interpretations of the Arab Spring uprisings. In our modern age of instant gratification and fast-paced lives, it is easy to assume that because the Arab Spring did not achieve its proponents most lofty goals, it was a failure, but I would agree with Mr. Ali in stating that in order to have a revolution, you must also have patience. Expecting a revolution to be easy and quick is almost always unrealistic, especially when things are made messier with violence from opposing regimes. Instead, I view each positive change of the Arab Spring as a small success in and of itself.
Overall, I think that political cartoons are a uniquely powerful way of expressing revolutionary thought. They may not have the intellectual depth of a revolutionary speech or manifesto, but their easily digestible messages are potent tools for spreading ideas and allowing revolutions to go viral in the new age of internet-fueled activism.