Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Illustrator

Lama Khatib Daniel transforms the Middle East’s visual culture by hand
Satirical cartoons poking fun at political and social establishments have long been a mainstay of newspapers throughout the Middle East. Yet illustration as an art form has had a difficult time gaining a foothold in the region, where photography still dominates editorial and advertising content. Despite such odds, a new generation of illustrators has emerged within the Arab World. Amongst this group is Lama Khatib Daniel.

The Polyglot sat down with the self-taught Dubai-based illustrator for a frank discussion on the challenges facing such artists in the region and the transformative affect this art form could have on society.
You’ve done both 2D animation and story boards for TV commercials. How different is that world from traditional print work?They are two very different worlds. In terms of TV commercials I have to take a creative director’s vision or script and sketch it out in a story board. It’s usually a very loose interpretation of what they have in mind, since you need to leave room for their imagination. What I produce in that instance is not the final product but is more a part of the creative process.

On the other hand there is a certain precision to making a finished illustration for print. You are given a brief or concept and you must have a clear idea of what it will look like; the style, the colors and even the message you are trying to convey to the viewer.

Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi recently created an animated film based on her Persepolis series of comic books. Do you ever see yourself creating an animated film?I think Satrapi’s film is amazing and very brave in a sense, because it takes a lot to put your life out there for everyone to see. I’ve always admired people who are able to take misfortunes in life and transform them in a positive way. As an artist I have been shaped by all the challenges, euphoria and ups and downs life throws at you, but I’m not sure I’m ready to put all of it on film just yet.

What are some of the challenges facing illustrators in the Middle East today?I think a lack of "freedom of speech" naturally leads to a lack of “freedom of illustration.” Although we have amazing Arab artists, there are still very few Middle Eastern illustrators. Most of the good illustration artists here are from other parts of the globe. There is a tendency amongst Arab artists to practice more traditional art forms such as painting or sculpture, not necessarily illustration.

To nurture specialized fashion illustrators, business article illustrators, or even story board & comic book artists, we need to have a market for it where one has enough room to experiment. It’s only then that the profile of illustrators and their work will rise in the region.

So it boils down to a lack of appreciation for the art form?Yes, but it is also a lack of understanding for what specialized illustrators can do. I’ve often been asked to copy an illustration picked up from an international magazine, or I’ve been handed an image on a piece of paper with the instruction, "I want it to look like this!" One forgets that Arab illustrators are more than capable of creating innovative work without having to copy from other sources. If we want to innovate we need to get beyond that mentality.

What’s your latest project?I’ve been working on a personal project for some time. In addition to illustration, I also write poetry and I recently launched a collection of books featuring both. Arab culture has a long history of creating poetry and I wanted to propose a new and contemporary way of presenting it to a new generation.

Has the Middle East influenced your work?It certainly has! I've lived here my entire life; first in Kuwait as a child, then Jordan and now Dubai, which is a very multi-cultural city. As an Arab artist you’d have to be living under a rock to not notice the complexities found within the Middle East today. Our stories and daily issues are too intense to be ignored and that feeds me creatively. Middle Easterners are a very passionate people, but we can also be harsh and it's that love/hate emotional roller coaster that finds its way into our art as well.

© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

1 comment:

Lama Khatib Daniel said...

thanx Alex :) looks nice.. Hope all is well