Editorial & Content: “Caricature can be a two-edged blade”, an interview with Hana Hajjar, a young Saudi editorial cartoonist
Hana Hajjar, 26, is one of the very rare women cartoonists in the Arab world. Born in Saudi Arabia where she studied fine arts, she has been working mainly with the English-speaking Saudi daily ArabNews for almost two years now. Each month, between 10 and 15 of her drawings are published in this newspaper, which was launched in 1975 and has a circulation of 110,000 copies. APN interviewed this young woman who expresses her views through cartoons and considers her work "a kind of intellectual jihad".
APN: How did you enter the field of caricatures? HH: Since my childhood I have been interested in the caricature corner in papers and magazines. In the beginning, I practiced caricature drawing as a hobby, and trained myself by reading, practicing, and making use of other's experiences. Then the idea developed, and I decided to enter this rich world that is full of surprises. I traveled to Egypt, where I met the famous Egyptian cartoonist Saad Eddine Chahat during my internship at The Al Ahram newspaper. Finally I chose the most difficult branch of this profession: the school of no comment caricature, which relies on the image for expressing the idea.
APN: How many of your drawings have been published? Beside Arab News, where can your drawings be seen? HH: I have been publishing in Arab News for more than a year and a half now. I publish about 10 to 15 drawings a month. Some medical and cultural magazines publish my drawings as well. I also invented a cartoon character, whose name is Kadbouna. This character criticizes the negative aspects of Arab society and mainly the way children are educated. Using this character, I aim at helping children find their Arab identity. And in the future, I have the project of using it in intelligent games that stimulate their creativity.
APN: Are you more inspired by political or social topics? HH: My first drawing when I was a child dealt with the suffering of the Palestinian people, and called for stopping the war. When I started publishing my drawings, I focused on society, and pointed out its negative aspects and criticized it, trying to present solutions. Then I discovered that I very much tend to draw political caricatures, and I published some of my works in Arab News as my own way of supporting to the nations that suffer from occupation or persecution. Nevertheless, I do not want to restrict myself to certain fields. So, I work on a variety of themes such as politics, economics, sports and issues that have deep roots in society, or sociology in general.
APN: How do you explain the small number of women cartoonists in the media?
HH: This could be due to several reasons. Men have dominated this field since the beginning, and by tradition, it has become like a private area for them. Also, women, by nature, are not confrontationists. Nevertheless, I find these reasons unconvincing and not enough to stop women, who do not lack the talents and creative ideas, from joining the club.
APN: In your drawings you criticized the behavior of some Muslims during Ramadan. Were you trying to convey a certain message?
HH: Such conducts have nothing to do with fasting. Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "Fast to enjoy healthy life." The behavior of some people do during fast - laziness, anger, and overreacting - must be shown as very bad habits.
APN: Is there any issues or subjects that you prefer not deal with?
HH: Since I started my career as a cartoonist, I have been aware of the limits that I should put to myself. Those limits are executive, not intellectual, because I realize that caricature can be a two-edged blade, and frequently we hear about editors who have been fired because of a cartoon. And I'm convinced that cartoons reflect the daily life of people and the new trends of society. In general, what is prohibited in writing is also prohibited in drawing. Naturally, I prevent myself from ridicule or scorn of values or religions, or using obscene language. Caricature is a fine art that addresses the problems facing the people.