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Sara Qaed Political cartoonist for the modern age

Social and political artist Sara Qaed uses caricature to speak about refugees, women, corruption, power, human existence and contradictions.

I was first introduced to the artwork of Sara Qaed through the Freeing Your Feet illustration series, which she created for the UBI Lab Network.

In a world where social and political landscapes are so heavily intertwined and morph and move so rapidly, Sara’s visual representations of events invite you to pause and reflect. I chatted to Sara to find out more about her work.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic journey up until now.

My name is Sara Qaed. I grew up in Bahrain with an interest in drawing, and I have drawn and "made" since I was little.

Between 2009 and 2010, I saw a family in Gaza being crushed on TV and I thought about what could be done for the victims and survivors at a moment like this. What can art or certain skills provide for people in a situation like this? How can these moments be recorded and shared? How can “I”, who has never witnessed war firsthand, tell a story like this visually? How would it be received?

At the same time, I noticed the impact of journalist drawings and editorial cartoons on people around me. Locally, people spoke a lot about the power of Naji Al-Ali’s or Abdullah Al-Muharriqi’s work on them, but sometimes and for many reasons, these kinds of practices were ignored or discussed in a narrow way.

So I thought maybe I could start drawing like this, since I have drawing skills and an interest in the news. I found a local newspaper that offered to publish my work and that’s how I started.

Over the last ten years, alongside my daily practice as an editorial cartoonist, I have created comics, collage, wearable pieces, social art and experimental videos. What has also grown in recent years is my interest in working with people. Akml is a project that reveals and records this side of my practice.

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Your work reveals a particular fondness for caricature as a means of expression. What is it about this medium that you find so appealing?

There is a lot that can be said about cartoons and illustrations which discuss political and social issues. They can be a still image, video, collage, t-shirt or anything. Each medium and each style has a different effect on the artist and viewers. It’s hard to separate the artist from the viewers. Their roles overlap in an unexpected way, and I guess this overlap brings the most interesting results and creates interesting meaning or use in each work.

Also, my own practice depends a lot on manual drawing. I find this very helpful in understanding and questioning shapes, forms and things, and finding links between them. All of this happens on a daily basis and it’s usually shared with the public.

To some extent I find cartoon as a medium quite simple. It’s visually attractive to people of different ages and backgrounds, and carries a sense of humor. I don’t consider my work to be funny but generally it contains an element of irony or sometimes something surprising.

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You recently created a series of images for the UBI Lab Network, a group exploring the potential for a Universal Basic Income. What was the thinking behind these?

The project is called Freeing Your Feet and it started as a series of four illustrations that capture four answers from UBI Lab Network’s Basic Income Conversations.

The concept of this series was to show part of the “figure” or person, in this case the feet, and imagine the rest of the scene according to what was mentioned in each answer. While I was reading the answers I felt that each person was trying to move in a certain way, maybe by stepping forward or stepping in a different direction. To represent these steps I thought that human feet could be an interesting symbol and a metaphor for many things.

As much as I enjoyed reading, illustrating and reading them again, I couldn’t stop thinking about what the person who wrote these answers, or a person who was having similar thoughts, would think about my illustrations. I keep coming back to these kinds of questions about agency and representation even in my daily cartoons.

Later, the project was taken in a more participatory direction. We asked people to capture their own feet and answer this question, “What would your life be like if you had a Basic Income?” Feedbacks and results were published on Instagram for three months. The worksheet version is still available to download and use here.

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Your art has a strong social and political focus. Where do you draw inspiration from when creating new pieces?

As much as I try to follow the news, I find people’s spontaneous comments and conversations are the most interesting and inspirational. They deliver news and discuss social issues in very interesting ways. During the pandemic I have missed face-to-face talks.

I saw the series of cartoons on your Instagram referred to as an 'open-ended graphic story'. Can you tell us about the narrative so far?

There isn’t a start point for these cartoons, nor is there an end point. It’s even hard to tell where the inspiration comes from. They continue and develop in different ways, sometimes they repeat or intersect. They are narrated in a loop rather than in a linear way, and maybe that’s why I think of them as an open-ended story.

What's on the horizon for you in 2021?

Besides my daily cartoons, I am working on an illustration series that captures stories from lockdown in Gateshead. The project is part of Lockdown Lives and Gateshead Libraries are archiving it. I am also one of the artists in residence with HelixArts, where I am developing social art visits in different places.

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