Palestine, Syria
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What Do You Get When You Cross a Flower with a Gas Mask? –These Caricatures for Peace

War is no laughing matter–unless, like Hani Abbas, you use humor to get people to think and feel outside the box. This May, the Syrian-Palestinian from Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus won the top award for caricaturists from Cartoonists for Peace; here he shares with us his inspiration and goals.

Many of your drawings cross “ordinary” peaceful life with life inside a conflict. Why?

I love to mix subjects and events to show the ironic differences between them. Caricature itself is the art of irony. And in it I go farther to create shock, something that will make you stop and stare and think.

Why this genre?

For me a caricature is a message I should send to as many people as I can everywhere. That’s why I avoid writing in my cartoons; I always try to employ a strong idea to address the mind and touch the heart. There are people suffering all kinds of injustice—murder, displacement—and it’s a duty for me and everyone who has the means to convey the voice of these people.

When you finish a good drawing, how do you feel?

I meditate on it for a while after I finish it, and I feel relaxed, like I just finished crying or screaming and poured everything inside me out into this drawing. Then after I publish it on Facebook I start reading followers reactions, and I care a lot about their notes. I always want to know how the idea impacted viewers, and how people understood the caricature’s meaning.

How did you feel when you won the Cartoonists for Peace award?

The moment I first knew I’d won I was full of mixed emotions–disbelief and a deep feeling that my message had arrived. I couldn’t sleep that night, thinking, staring and sometimes crying. When I received the prize on the Wilson Palace platform, I couldn’t see the audience; I was only seeing my martyr friends who were arrested, besieged, and displaced, and giving them the award. After the news of my win was published, I felt the big new responsibility it brought me, and a commitment to keep going further forward.

For more information: Hani Abbas cartoons on Facebook



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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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