American University of Beirut

 Engaging with the Comics Archives 2023

Archive Exhibition 2023.JPG
Engaging with the Comics Archives: Rethinking Gender, Voice and Identity

For this experimental exhibition, contemporary comic artists from the region were asked to engage with pages from the Arab Comics Archive (comics from the past) and to reinterpret them from the vantage point of today.

How does the weight of our past inform our present identities and future possibilities? How might we take another look at history and in so doing, allow ourselves to imagine alternative futures in which people of all genders play a variety of roles?

The glaring omission of female voices and characters is felt deeply in the magazines that circulated in the Arab world in the latter part of the 20th century. Not only were all the adventures in the Arab comics of the latter part of the 20th century predominantly enjoyed by the primary male characters, but comics magazines themselves were often given the names of boys: Samer, Sameer, Oussama, Ahmad, Mahdi, Sindibad, Alaa’eddine, Ali Baba, and so on*. To have grown up with Samer, Oussami, Majid, and Sindibad, an emerging question may be: where were the stories about the girls? The default reader was imagined to be a boy, and the adventures they went on, it was assumed, was mostly within the purview of male activities, although girls certainly were also there, going to schools, and living through the same “important historical moments.”

Re-situating history from a gender-sensitive perspective is not a call to rewrite or alter history as it was lived -- on the contrary, a gender-sensitive perspective asks us to fill in gaps and present the fuller reality, accounting for people’s lives, thoughts, and experience who at the time were not thought important or interesting enough to be recorded.

Opening up this archive allows greater access to our heritage of artistic and cultural expression, and a deeper appreciation for the social, political, economic and cultural contexts of our histories and how people grappled, then and now, with the question of how to be both Arab and modern.

We hope that this comics exhibition invites you to take part in the reimagining of ourselves and our histories. And we thank the artists for their thoughtful engagements with our past. Through comics, a medium with beloved juxtaposition of time, space, scales, words, and images — we can imagine new alternate realities to reckon with, paving the way for more expansive future possibilities.
Archive Exhibition 2023- pic 2.JPG Archive Exhibition 2023- pic 3.JPG

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