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Globalization

Illustrations against ignorance and oblivion in Lebanon

The young Lebanese graphic designer Maya Zankoul projects a differentiated picture of her country in her humorous cartoons that reject media stereotypes of bombs, war and terror.

Qantara: You were born in Lebanon but grew up in Saudi Arabia. Why did you return to your country of birth?

Maya Zankoul: Because I am Lebanese. My father used to work in Saudi Arabia so we all grew up there until I was 18. Then I came back to Lebanon to study graphic design. For me it was always my dream to return to my home country. Since I lived in Saudi Arabia, I had a really romantic view of Lebanon. For me it was the country of family holidays and freedom.

Do you still have this romantic view?

Of course not. I had a kind of culture shock when I arrived. Vacations here were really fun. But when you live and work in Lebanon you start to notice that things are more difficult to handle. For example there is a major lack of infrastructure - no public transport, power cuts, water problems and political tensions. And I felt that we have a lot of work to do.

"Fight Back" is one of your more serious illustrations. It shows you pulling down the black mask of a militia fighter, and where his face should be the word "Ignorance" appears. The image is signed by "A very angry Maya Zankoul." What exactly is the idea behind this cartoon?

In October 2012, after the attack in the middle of Beirut even civilians picked up weapons and took to the streets, burning tires and shooting. I was very angry. Everyone was afraid and stayed home. I thought by doing this we are just confirming these people in their cause. This is why I created the cartoon. It was my way of saying we should fight back and not hide at home. We should go out and continue our lives normally. My point is: After all that Lebanon has been through, people who fight in the streets are just ignorant.

How do people react to your art?

I have received a lot of positive feedback over the years. People tell me that the drawings make them feel better. The cartoons have actually affected them. Sometimes when people are walking in the streets they think of my images and are reminded that some "normal" situations are actually unacceptable. We cannot continue like this. Surprisingly I haven't received any major negative comments.

You host a show on Lebanese television about computers, the Internet and social media.

I have a weekly show on local TV called "B Wa2ta" teaching women who stay at home how to use social media to promote their work. A lot of Lebanese women in their 40s or 50s don't use the Internet. Before the show my mother didn't even have an e-mail address. Now she is even on Facebook. I feel this has made her even more emancipated.

Are you concerned about women's rights in Lebanon?

I would almost consider myself to be a feminist. I think we have a long way to go with women's rights in Lebanon. These rights are basically not available. Imagine: A Lebanese woman who marries a foreigner does not have the right to pass her nationality on to their children. The treatment of women in the workplace, domestic violence and equality are important topics to me.

Compared to other countries in the Middle East, Lebanon is widely seen as enjoying a certain freedom of expression. Have you ever hesitated to publish a cartoon because of possible negative reactions?

No. The cartoons are a platform for me to say whatever I want. Unlike in other countries, in Lebanon bloggers are not arrested and tortured. Occasionally someone is questioned by the police but released the same day. I would never publish something disrespectful. I just state my opinion in a civilized way and that shouldn't be a reason to get arrested.

This is an edited version of an interview originally conducted by Juliane Metzker for qantara.de

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