A black hand holds a lighter and presses his thumb down to light a flame. The action is framed by a large orange circle depicting the sudden light in what would have been a dark room. Like many of the Romanian-born Sudanese political cartoonist Khalid Albaih’s works, the meaning behind this cartoon gives rise to the need for freedom of expression, especially for artists living in nations where this isn’t always possible. At ArtX in July, a new artist’s club and cultural platform in Manhattan’s Meatpacking district located on 409 West 14th Street, Albaih’s provocative large-scale cartoons depicted in vibrant block colours decorated the walls in his exhibition Stumbling is Not Falling.
The works were created after the artist’s participation in the inaugural Freedom residency organised by the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a project of PEN America and ArtX to support “at-risk artists.” The artist, known for his work that conveys criticisms of authoritarian regimes, wants his art to serve as a vehicle for solidarity and a better future.
“This is a very important time for the Sudanese diaspora to stand up for those fighting for freedom and hope back home,” Albaih said in a statement. “Now is the time for the international community to amplify the voices of those fighting for their freedom on the ground.”
Madonna by Khalid Albaih
Courtesy of the artist
The residency coincides with Albaih’s first major US exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Jacksonville, a continuation of the artist’s 2016 US Culturunners road trip titled The Story of Civil Rights is Unfinished, a project that explored race, politics, and the American civil rights movement.
“My father was a diplomat and like other Arab families we grew up during a very political atmosphere so politics was always a part of my life,” says the artist. “Whether you are in Sudan or outside of Sudan, we have had to learn how to adjust ourselves to talk about politics so that you don’t get yourself in trouble.” Making cartoons was the answer.
School Kids by Khalid Albaih
Courtesy of the artist
“I grew up reading comic books and I related art to comics—it was a way for me to relate to politics in an easier way,” he says. “Cartooning allows you to talk about the issues in a humorous way. When you say you are a cartoonist, people immediately smile.” Sometimes, however, Albaih’s comics are not funny because the situation they depict is not funny. “After the Arab Spring I felt that people took a step back from politics, but now there is a greater desire to discuss current issues.”
The artist has also launched FADAA, a digital platform for artists that envisions a new economy based on sharing spaces. The site and app aims to connect artists with “FADAA” patrons who have spaces that artists can use to exhibit their work. These spaces could be anywhere from a car park, a garage, a gallery, a room in a house—the space available constitutes a platform for the artists to exhibit their work. “FADAA was launched from a personal need of what me and my friends went through in the Arab world; we didn’t have an art community and we didn’t have much support so we needed to work together to find similar like-minded individuals with spaces,” says Albaih. “It’s about reanimating and activating spaces that you may or may not use. Everyone has something to give, they just don’t know how.”
For more information visit Getfadaa.com