2017–2018

The Mad Cartoonists of Cairo: The Dangerous World of Middle East Censorship and the Emergence of Arab Comix

History of Art/Middle East Studies

In the past decade, and especially since the 2011 uprisings, a new movement of underground comics has electrified the Middle East and North Africa. This contemporary canon of texts enjoys great artistic, literary, and political merit. Despite a growing field of comics studies, few have studied their emergence.

Based on five years of field research, this project investigates new visual cultures in the Arab region. The project will begin by plotting the development of this “comics movement”—its influences locally and internationally, and its perseverance in the face of obstacles such as limited resources and stifling laws. The later chapters will develop a hybrid approach to the study of Arab comics. Through close examination of graphic narratives and conversations with artists, this project aims to address longstanding questions around the limits of free speech, the role of satire as a form of dissent, and the politics of art in authoritarian states.

I am looking for a research partner to help with the translation of cartoons and comics; transcription of interview tapes; organization of archival materials, including the sorting of works online and on paper. The student will research the collections of Harvard and other libraries that contain Middle East publications, notably graphic narratives but also historic periodicals. The student may be asked to conduct other substantive research tasks such as literature reviews or conducting interviews by phone as needed.

Advanced Arabic reading and translation skills desired. Advanced French reading skills would be valuable.

The project would benefit from the student's perspectives on current scholarship of art, literature, and culture of the Middle East region. The student would be introduced to an exciting and emerging field of research, namely the study of comics in the Arab region. The material in question is fun to work with and would certainly inspire further research in any number of fields. For a student with advanced Arabic knowledge, this would also be a hands-on opportunity to practice colloquial dialects (especially Egyptian and Levantine Arabic). For a student with knowledge of French, this would be an opportunity to explore colloquial French as it is used in North Africa and Lebanon through recent alternative publications.