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Doctoral defense: Sara Rizkallah 'A Revolutionized Arab Comic Scene: Visual Political Resistance and Activism in Post-Revolutionary Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria'

Friday, June 16, 2023, 10:00 am – 12:30 pm

Chair: Nadia Al-Bagdadi, Department of History, CEU;

Supervisor: Dorit Geva, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, CEU;

Internal examiner: Jean-Louis Fabiani, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, CEU;

External examiner: Vivienne Matthies-Boon, Radboud Universiteit.



This thesis examines the independent Arab comic/graphic novel genre during and after the Arab Spring, with a particular focus on Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. It looks beyond Western comic creators and explores the artworks of Arab comic creators whose lives have been heavily affected by extreme political situations. It explores how independent Arab comic art functions as a site of visual resistance to states’ cultural governance and how comic creators act as ethical witnesses of reigning political Arab regimes. The thesis characterizes the new spheres of visual activism and resistance as subaltern and online counter-publics in the emerging Arab graphic novel genre, formed and inhabited by artivists, comic creators, journalists, academics, intellectuals, and activists during and post-revolutionary Arab Spring. The independent Arab graphic novel genre is a form of creative expression that equates resistance with the re-inscription of agency during and after the Arab Spring; featuring independent graphic artworks that documented a subversive counter-history.

Based on an extensive field ethnography (including participant observation, semi-structured interviews, online interviews, and focus groups) from 2019-2022 during the Cairo Comix Festival, the thesis contends that a narrow focus on formally organized state resistance excludes resistant practices by independent cultural players; independent Arab comic creators, who are not affiliated with the state cultural field. There is a broader conception of political agency and resistance within the unofficial spheres of Arab states that has been unexamined within independent artistic praxes, particularly Arab comic art. The manifestation of visual resistance depended on the rising group of intellectuals, journalists, illustrators, activists, academics, and cartoonists forming a counter-public, giving voice to those who are silenced. 

Thus, this thesis contributes to the scholarly literature on how visuals have been an essential component in the articulation of various publics within the sphere of politics and social change. It emphasizes the important role played by the independent comic art genre in the production of an alternative visual protest culture and resistant art practices; moving beyond the state cultural field; while uncovering unseen visual representations of martyrdom, resistance, trauma, and activism during and post-an Arab Spring.

Non-CEU affiliates please register for online or in-person participation here.