Saudi artist Abdullah Jaber is not afraid to depict society to his readers through his cartoons, once going so far as drawing both the country’s elite and its working class in one cartoon.
Jaber, a young artist who has been drawing cartoons surrounding political and social issues for local Saudi newspapers, has won international awards recognizing his work.
But he says it is the balancing act of avoiding what he deemed as “short-lived red lines” and for Saudis to recognize the difficulties in doing so that he strives for in his cartoons.
“In our region, caricature is surrounded by numerous short-lived red lines which drive the cartoonist to maneuver and overcome a myriad of restrictions. On the other hand, readers today value smart ideas that respect their intellect and renouncing, at the same time, the one-dimensional ideas. This is the reason why my cartoons are mostly coded and symbolic of ideas I can carry on,” Jaber told Al Arabiya.
Most of his cartoons are drawn with big round eyes and boxed-shaped figures, an ode to Jaber’s inspiration from the Simpsons cartoons. He said he uses this style to avoid mimicking real-life people in his cartoons that may see him get into hot water if critiquing current issues of the day.
“I need to reveal the comical side of the characters, so I do not draw them to look real. There is also the time-saving element of keeping the drawings simple in order to make the daily publishing deadlines,” he said.
“Caricature is a difficult art, that is why it is a rarity here in Saudi Arabia. Once upon a time, political caricatures used to be boring due to the lack of subjects and political knowledge. But over the last decade there has been a growth in interest in politics and increasing commentary,” he said when asked which of political, social or nationalistic cartoons were the most difficult to draw.
But he contends that having to draw cartoons critiquing the social issues of the day are the most difficult.
“Caricaturists in the Arab world have to express their opinion while at the same time agreeing with the government’s opinion, otherwise, they would not be allowed to be published at all,” Jaber said.
While art in general is yet to be seen as a means to a stable career, Jaber says he has spent the past few years proving to both himself and Saudi Arabia’s young generations that it is possible.
“I needed to draw thousands of cartoons in order to prove this point. I am pleased that I have succeeded and am in the process of helping others to make a living out of something they love doing, which is what truly defines success,” he said.
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