Cartoonist Mahmoud Kahil: A treasure unearthed

Cartoonist Mahmoud Kahil: A treasure unearthed
Culture: The family of the renowned cartoonist have scanned his catalogue of work into a database and published a selection of his work in a book.
3 min read
10 July, 2015
Kahil's 'Arab World' character allowed him to avoid offending any one leader [Kahil family]
According to Kahil is a bilingual retrospective publication of editorial cartoons by the distinguished Lebanese political cartoonist Mahmoud Kahil.

The book features a selection of work from 1980 to 2000, and is divided into six chapters on Lebanon, the Arab world, freedom of expression, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, deprivation, and international affairs.

At an event in London for the book's UK launch, Kahil's work was presented by his daughter, Dana Kahil Trometer, writer and editor Malu Halasa and British satirist and cartoonist Martin Rowson.

Kahil, born in Lebanon in July 1936, moved to London in 1978 and remained there until his death in February 2003.

His family and friends have spent years searching through reams of publications, archives and storage rooms for his cartoons. They scanned and numbered thousands of them, added them to a database and tagged the characters in them.

It was a huge effort - and a labour of love - as Kahil had produced cartoons on an almost daily basis for nearly five decades.

Some of the archives containing his cartoons were partly destroyed by the Lebanese Civil War.
His cartoons are still relevant and remain resonant.

Although the bulk of his work was predominantly produced in the second half of the 20th century, his cartoons are still relevant and remain resonant.

They cover issues that still plague the world, particularly those concerning terrorism, the Arab region and freedom of expression.

At the event, Kahil's daughter, a filmmaker and film editor, said her father was always careful and practiced self-censorship.

Kahil was a contemporary of renowned Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, who was gunned down outside his office in London in 1987. Limited news of the murder reached Lebanon - online news was but a dream back then - but a terrified Kahil family heard only that an Arab cartoonist had been gunned down in London.

"There are lines not to cross," Trometer said. "You kind of self-censor, you start learning your business, you know how to get your message [across] in another way. This makes you a bit more creative, because you, kind of, not use words anymore, you create such a character that nobody would know who it is."

After being told by his employers to draw whatever he liked as long as it was not too offensive, Kahil created the character the "Arab World" - a man with a thick moustache and a globe for his head. This character helped him express himself without fear of insulting anyone in particular.

Mahmoud Kahil was a prolific

cartoonist [Kahil family archive]

Malu Halasa said that Kahil was a humanist, and that his work was "quite populist in its outlook and it provided a platform for the sentiments and the frustrations of ordinary Arabs".

An open call for submissions to the Mahmoud Kahil Award programme is launched each April. The project promotes comics, editorial cartoons and illustrations in the Arab world. The deadline for this year's submission is 15 July.

Martin Rowson, the famed Guardian cartoonist, described the art as "visual satire".

"Visual satire is actually central to being human," he said. "We have to laugh at our leaders to stop us going mad.

"The cartoonist develops a mutually abusive relationship with some of his subjects, particularly politicians who like to be in the public eye."

Trometer said that her father used the word "terrorist" so frequently in his cartoons - although it was the era of the 1970s and 1980s. "You can draw it tomorrow [and it would still be relevant.]"