Ali Farzat is a Syrian political cartoonist, whose work gets published both printed in Syria, and more recently also on his own Facebook page. While his relationship with the Syrian regime has been on the brighter side, Farzat’s images are faced with some censorship, and his cartoons generally do not depict any specific person, but play with more general images. This specific illustration is in black and white, giving it a rather dismal atmosphere, and shows a man standing in a dark space behind prison bars, seemingly unable to get out, while the bars around him have been removed. It seems there is something not visible to the viewer that stops him from exiting his prison.
This image represents an interesting recurring theme in Farzat’s cartoons: a critique directed at the citizens, not the regime, of the country. This depiction allows the audience to rethink the concept of freedom in a nation: when you think about limited freedom, the state almost certainly comes to mind as the most obvious character to blame. Farzat’s cartoon, however, problematizes this assumption, and gives the citizens a responsibility through a role of choice: he has the possibility to escape, so why doesn’t he? It could be a critique of traditions, religion, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, or plain cowardice. Assuming that the man is not aware of the lack of bars on his sides, it could also be a critique of lack of awareness of the power of the people. To determine what is stopping him, it would be interesting to see the context in which it was published.
Additionally, Farzat’s cartoons as a medium of discussion can be compared to the spreading of religious messages through cassette tapes that we previously discussed in class. They are of course different in their most basic forms, auditory versus visual, religious versus political, but they are both largely distributed and discussed through informal means. While the cassette tapes may be copied and sold or given to a friend, Farzat’s cartoons can similarly be shared between contacts on Facebook. Both of these facilitate the creation of a great and international audience for their messages. Also, they can easily be discussed and referred to in most kinds of settings – at least when they are discussed within the same kind of public sphere: in this case the Islamic public sphere or a public sphere interested in Syrian politics.
More cartoons by Ali Farzat can be found on his Facebook page.