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Hanzala returns to torment the tormentors

Exhibition honors Palestinian cartoonist 

First published in The Daily Star, 31 July 2002

Naji Ali once said: "I wish I was like a multi-handed  Indian Deity, in each a pen, to draw more and more." Although assissinated in 1987, his reputation and the power of his work continues.

On the initiative of seven Lebanese contemporary cartoonists and journalists, the Arab Cultural Center in Beirut has set up an exhibition honoring the famous political catoonist's life and work. Quite a statement, given that he was denied access to the Lebanese University to study fine arts when he applied in the 1960s. 


"It is 15 years since one of the greatest Palestinian artists was killed", said Khodor Balayam, a member of the organizing team of the exhibit. "This is a salute to the Lebanese press to Ali."

Born in Palestine in 1936, Ali fled to the refugee camp Ain al-Hilweh in 1948 with his family. Aftis this, his life and work was dedicated to the Palestian struggle. 

The exhibit is divided into two rooms. The entrance hall to the institute displays a collection of Ali's most haunting cartoon figure, Hanzala, the symbolic child refugee who witnesses atrocities that befall Palestinians after 1948. 

Balayam pointed out: This figure, hans behind his back, shappy clothing and a few spikes of hair has become famous all over the world."

The main room of the exhibit contains works of seven Lebanese cartoonists. They have picked up themes of contemporary politics and played with them in a way they believe Ali would have agreed.

Hassan Idelbi, who has worked for a number of Arab newspapers and television channels in Lebanon, chose world leaders to caricature.

His most intriguing piece showed the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer barging through a Palestinian and an Israeli in a brawl; the Palestinian armed with a sling, the Israeli with a machine gun. At a first glance Fischer seems to be hold the two apart, but a closer look revealed him simply using his suitcase - draped in stars and stripes - to push them both aside.

Idelbi used his regular style with bright colors to create detailed caricatures. Other cartoonists, however, tried to adopt certain aspects of Ali's more simple style. 

Pierre Sadiq, for instance, only used dark colors, predominately black. "This is a reference to Ali's work", Balayam explained, "as Ali grew older, his cartoons became darker in color as well as in theme." Sadiq als tried to interweave Arabic script into his work.

But none of the cartoons have the power of Ali's work. His cartoons have a directness and honesty about them that strike its viewer in the face. Much of the power was drawn from the protagonist of his work, Hanzala.

The name Hanzala is in itself very symbolic: Translated from Arabic to English, it can refer to a very bitter kind of citrus fruit that grows in wastelands, but can also mean an average citizen.

Hanzala appeared in all of Ali's political cartoons on display. And even though Ali only had two hands, not a dozen like an Indian deity, his satire and critique of both Arab and Israeli leaders was spread across the world. Hanzala contributed to this largely. 

"Hanzala is a protest figure", says Balayam, "and will not turn around and show his face to his audience until he has a home again."

Arman Homsi, Pierre Sadiq, Hassan Idelbi, Aisa Sabra, Mahmud Kahil, Malaham Amad and Nabil Qaduh display their work through Aug. 2 at the Arab Cultural Center. For more information, please call =1/345948