Cartooning for peace
In Paris, Georges Bahgory teams up with 14 cartoonists for a dose of politics and sharp wit
Like a frond from a palm tree in my village, Bahgora, I was bound to meet other fronds, fronds that came from other parts of the world. Together we recreated one palm tree, a palm tree of universal dimensions.
There are fifteen of us: Plantu from France, No-Rio from Japan, Vladdo from Colombia, Kroll from Belgium, Xia Lichuan from China, Patrick from Switzerland, Zlatkovsky from Russia, Ali Dilem from Algeria, Ramize from Turkey, Georgio Forattini from Italy, Danziger from America, Khalil Abu Arafeh from Palestine, Baha Boukhari from Egypt and Michel Kichka from Israel.
We are all reincarnations of that great artist, Honore Daurmier, the French cartoonist whose drawings took France by storm in the 19th century. We challenged Israel in the cartoon battle. We sneaked into enemy land undetected, and we had the protection of Kofi Annan to boot. We wanted our drawings to reach the children of Ramallah. We wanted the detainees in Israeli prisons to bear witness as well.
Our pens and brushes are ready. Plantu is swift with the left hand, drawing as fast as he thinks. Norio makes it look easy, working at the speed of light. Forattini offers a political analysis of the aggressor and the victim. Ramize gives her critique a sensual touch. Abu Arafeh is unwavering in his defence of Palestinian right. I keep the pen down, twirling it on the page, forming one long curly line.
Georges Bahgory is my name. And I am writing this at Café Riche, the coffeehouse that brought together Egypt's intellectuals and politicians decades ago, in times of the monarchy and up to the revolution of 1952. Intellectuals and leftists were once taken from Café Riche for internment at the prisons of the oases in the Western Desert.
I want to tell you about a band of painters who know how to wield their brushes in anger, how to poke fun and the great and mighty. We got together in Paris, having flown in from Japan, China, Argentina, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Algeria, Ramallah and Jerusalem.
We met at a Paris library in the fourth arrondissement, and our irreverent drawings filled the room with freedom, a freedom laced with sarcasm. Everyone seemed to be here, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm. Our lines on the walls speak louder than the cracking of the champagne, and flows just as freely.
I am young again, a blossom in the orchard of art. The artists around me poke fun at the enemies of man, the warmongers, and the merchants of mass destruction weapons. They ridicule the mendacious rulers and fascists. They paint the chiefs of repression and terror as they are, without masks. They smudge their faces with charcoal. They stab them with their sharp wit.
I am known for being able to draw with one stroke, without lifting my pen from the paper. When I draw, artists and normal people gather around me to watch. And I am proud to be part of them. I am proud to be part of the fellowship of this extraordinary group that operate under the codename: Cartooning for Peace.
Cartoons became popular in Egypt over half a century ago, when they became de rigueur in Egyptian publications. I am a contemporary of people like Mustafa Hussein, Toghan, Gomaa, Salah Jaheen, Bahjat, Leithi, Hegazi, Ragaei, and Ezz El-Arab. But there are others who followed in our footsteps: Samir Abdel-Ghani, Ahmed Abdel-Naeim, Makhlouf, Abdallah, Hani, Amr Selim, Amr Okasha and Ibrahim Al-Baridi. And they're leaving their mark on the public conscience every day.
The book, Cartooning for Peace, is given free to the visitors of the Paris library. In the exhibition room, people are talking a new language, a cartoon language so to speak, a language of sweet and sour taste, a language of irony. The book sends ripples outside the boundaries of the exhibition room.
You may say that Plantu is the Daurmier of the 21st century, a man who keeps the world hanging at the end of his brush. At a time when terror and fascism close in on us, when injustice and wars become daily matters, and when everything seems to be dripping with blood, a meeting of the cartoonists has to amount to something.
Can sarcasm and a touch of a creative brush release us from the evil thoughts that haunt our world? Can this band of artists roll back the marching armies of aggressors, warmongers, and the nasty masterminds of 9/11? Can artists bandage the wounds of the world? Can they do a better job than the politicians who hold endless meetings and reach, with difficulty, dubious decisions?
The history of cartoon is at least 5,000 years old. The ancient Egyptians had satirical drawings in their temples in Luxor and Tel Al-Amarna. Then the 19th century gave us Honore Daurmier, the great French artist who, aside from cartoons, has paintings and sculptures that are permanently on display at the Rodin Museum.
The drawings speak for themselves. Bin Laden stands in his trademark turban, three medals visible on his chest, all showing the death sign of the skull (by Vladdo). On the cover of the exhibition book is a strong arm holding a pen that is keeping a crocodile at bay (Plantu). The seat for the Lebanese president is a green stump of the cedar tree, and empty (Dilem). An egg flies in the air and falls on the ground, but is caught by a soldier who drops his gun to catch it (Norio). Earth is being force-fed on French milk (Wiaz).
In other drawings, we see the peace dove used for target practice, the Union for the Mediterranean sinking in the sea, with Sarkozy holding the flag high till the last moment. An Israeli rocket destined for Gaza is bearing a "no entry", and the same sign appears on a bomb in Gaza. But it all comes at a price.
Algerian cartoonist Ali Dilem was imprisoned because of a cartoon critical of the government.
Kofi Annan, greeting us, says that cartoon speaks louder than articles. When Plantu tells Annan of the trouble I had because of my drawings in Egypt, Annan advises to ignore the shenanigans of intellectuals.
More cartoons. A Palestinian handkerchief envelops all of Israel (Boukhari). A modest house stands alone amid the high-rises of Palestine (Abu Arafeh). The leader of Al-Qaeda breaks wind and shatters the Earth (Forattini).
Leila Shahid, the Palestinian representative in Paris, says that confrontation is better than mumbling from afar. I am a real fighter, not a phony one, she assures me.