The graphic narratives in this exhibition were made by the graphic design students as part of the elective Course “Alternative Comics”, at the Department of architecture & Design, Maroun Samaan Faculty of Engineering, at the American University of Beirut.
The visual stories were published by the center for Arab Comics Studies at AUB in two books:
قصص مثوّرة: تشرين الثاني ٢٠١٩ (Original in Arabic)
In the fall of 2019, the students of the “Alternative Comics: course watched in shock as wildfires blazed in the mountains of Lebanon. When the Lebanese government failed to put the fires out, our shock soon turned to dismay. In the next few days, the government announced new taxes on fuel, and rolled out cuts to the pension plans of army veterans. The final straw came with the announcement of a new tax on WhatsApp calls - the relatively cheap and accessible form of communication that the Lebanese had come to rely on.
It was October the 17th, 2019, the beginning of what Lebanese people began to call “thawra” (the revolution).
Our class objectives soon shifted focus on learning how to insightfully capture and comment meaningfully on the unfolding of the dramatic political events surrounding us.
The students expressed emotions that ranged from hope, excitement, and happiness on the one hand, to overwhelm and apprehension, on the other. From feeling united and certain of themselves and the cause, they also at times expressed doubt, anxiety, and disconnect. At times they were full of vigor and clarity, and at other times they felt exhausted and mentally drained. To help them process these wildly fluctuating emotions, we set about documenting their personal narratives of the revolution. We made a timeline and backtracked to the first days. Our prompting questions included: “What made them join (or not) the protests in the streets?” and “What did they see and perceive?” We discussed the questions the protests prompted for them; the moral dilemmas, such as how they decided to take part or not in acts of vandalism; and their clashes with the riot police. For some, the protests elicited feelings of concern and they remained distant, taking a bird’s eye view of the events as they unfolded. Some were disheartened and resigned, but over time grew more hopeful.
In this exhibition (taken from the published book), we present the visual stories the students told through comics and graphic narratives, using a variety of visual media and conceptual approaches.
A prominent theme in this collection of graphic narrative is the question about identity and belonging.
The question of belonging surfaced in stories as diverse as: the identity crisis of a Lebanese who grew up abroad; a Palestinian disconnected from her roots by virtue of being born and raised in Lebanon; an Armenian whose father’s forced emigration divides the family; and an Italian expat not knowing where her place is at this incredible historical moment in Lebanon.
Evocatively, the visual narratives here reveal their personal accounts of the revolution and how it came about. They capture where they stood personally, and how they found ways to cope and make sense of it all.
As young students whose opinions are so often ignored and suppressed by political authorities, many discovered their voices for the first time through participating in the revolution. The visual narratives in this book additionally provided a platform for them to speak their minds and share their perspectives. The visual world that they created is now a text from which important aspects about their lives and the cultures that shape them can be gleaned.