Climate comics exhibition in Dubai sheds light on environmental issues across Arab region

Artists from five countries use different medium to highlight real problems their local communities are facing

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A comics exhibition at Alserkal Avenue’s Warehouse 58 is focusing on local stories about climate change from across the Arab region.

Entitled From Ink to Action – Using Comic Art to Save the Planet, the exhibition was launched during Cop28 and is a collaborative project between The Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF), an annual comics festival in the north of England, and the British Council – Mena.

The exhibition commissioned 12 artists from across the Arab world to take one pressing environmental issue affecting their region and translate it into the medium of comics.

“The idea was to invite artists and amplify their voices in the global discussion around climate change,” Marc Mouarkech, head of arts for the Levant cluster of the British Council, tells The National.

“We invited 12 artists from five different countries to create comic works that are contextualised in the environment, and the country they live in. It was important to make sure that the work is linked to what they see on a daily basis and make sure that these stories are given visibility.”

The artists come from Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and include illustrators, comics, visual and graphic artists, muralists and more.

Egyptian artist Mohamed Salah’s comic Noah’s Yacht looks at mankind’s obsession to continue to “do more” despite the cost to humanity, while Tunisian French visual storyteller Noha Habaieb illustrates the effects of pesticides from the perspective of a bee.

Lebanese cartoonist and illustrator Fouad Mezher’s Don’t Expect Anything follows a young woman who is looking for remaining members of her family after another natural disaster, while Egyptian illustrator Shennawy’s untitled comic reveals, through the perspective of a crab, the discrepancies of big corporations between their public advocacy for sustainability and their real-life actions.

Drawn in various styles and tackling issues through different tones of voices, the comics don’t only exist in the current exhibition but are available in a publication for purchase at the gallery space.

The 12 commissions were first shown at the LICAF’s festival in Windermere in September. They are now currently on show in Dubai with plans to also exhibit them in other countries over the next year. The modules on which the comics are presented on are made from recycled plastic obtained from the cosmetic industry, while the comics themselves are printed on recycled flex sheets.

Mouarkech says the comic medium is an effective way to highlight the urgency of these issues, deliver important messages and inspire action.

“The most important part was how, through the comic medium, we can make the public think about these issues in a new way,” he says.

“We considered how such a medium is quite accessible to many different audiences in delivering a message of action related to climate change.”

One of the artists showcased is Mehdi Annasi, who wanted his work to pose questions to the audience. His comic, The Second Season, focuses on the issue of water scarcity in Morocco in relation to watermelons.

The story begins with a young Annasi in conversation with his grandfather, a farmer who lived by the country phrase: “Don’t trust white hair but trust wrinkles. Don’t trust almonds but trust apricots.”

Annasi explains the phrase refers to the idea that one must really observe the details of nature to understand and trust the world around them.

The story then focuses on the town of Zagora, located in the Draa River valley in the south-east of Morocco, where watermelons are famous for their taste and quality. However, their out-of-season production has become a serious issue for water scarcity.

Drought has severely altered the environment and living conditions in Zagora. In turn, it has changed irrigation practices connected to growth and production of watermelons in the region. Farmers choose to grow watermelons off-season by exhausting natural water resources that otherwise would be used for human consumption.

“Farmers are sucking the water resources in that area by digging wells 200 metres into the ground to reach water which is not for agriculture,” he says.

“At the end of my comic I wonder what my grandfather would do if he were alive. Would he be like other farmers and follow the money and not follow the phrase that he lived by?”

Annasi explains that the message in his story is meant to make audiences question things but find their own answers. Comics and the arts, he adds, are a vehicle in which to communicate urgent issues in an impactful way.

“When someone is reading the comic or the story, they are alone and can decide for themselves what it all means,” he says. “It's not me wagging my finger at them, telling them that you have to stop doing this or doing that.

“It’s a message and they can own what message they get from the art.”

From Ink to Action – Using Comic Art to Save the Planet at Warehouse 58 in Alserkal Avenue runs until December 22

Updated: December 15, 2023, 2:32 PM