EXLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CARLOS LATUFF (One of the most outspoken political cartoonists who advocates human rights for Palestinians)
Middle East Monitor (Aug 1, 2011)
Carlos Latuff is a Brazilian artist whose vibrant political cartoons have made him an inspirational advocate for the people of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. He uses his expressive art to expose injustices around the world including war crimes, apartheid, imperialism, exploitation, the dark underbelly of capitalism and other forms of oppression around the world. The most frequent targets for his derision are the governments of the USA and Israel, and he does not shy away from highlighting their roles in exploiting and oppressing innocent people, whether in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan or anywhere else. They say that a picture tells a thousand words and Latuff’s cartoons certainly do that. He is lauded among political activists and oppressed people who feel he is championing their human rights through his art but he is also the subject of vilification by others - primarily those his art criticises. One of the most inspiring and controversial political cartoonists of our time, Carlos Latuff agreed to talk to MEMO about his art, what inspires his drawings and what it all means to him.
Dr. Hanan Cheata: Your art is clearly driven by your strong sense of justice and your personal opinions on issues such as Imperialism, capitalism, war, human rights violations and so on. Have you always been politically minded or was there a particular event or person that inspired you to become so politically engaged?
Carlos Latuff: I believe that working for a Leftist trade union paper for so long (since 1990) has an impact on my views. I learned the meaning of solidarity with the Leftists.
HC: You were born and raised in Rio de Janero in Brazil but have Lebanese ancestry. How far do you think your Arab roots have influenced your world view and your art?
CL: I think no influence at all. I didn’t know my grandfather, he passed away before I could meet him. It’s a matter of internationalism, as Che Guevara used to say. Solidarity with ALL people in the world. But I must say that since my visit to the Occupied Territories of the West Bank I feel attached to Palestine AND the Middle East.
HC: You visited Palestine in the late 1990’s. What is your most enduring memory of your visit there and did that experience change your view on the Palestine-Israel conflict in any way?
CL: What really caught my attention is the enormous difficulties faced by Palestinians under Israeli apartheid, and how they are strong and courageous enough to fight the occupation.
HC: You’ve been blacklisted by Israel and are therefore banned from visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territories again. This in itself surely reaffirms how powerful your images are if a country is willing to ban you on the grounds of your art? How do you feel about this ban?
CL: I fell into the same category of Palestinians in exile, denied entry to Palestine. Sometimes I feel myself a bit Palestinian. I take this ban as a compliment.
HC: You certainly do not shy away from controversy. No topic seems off limits to you but as a result you have become a target, receiving hate mail, on-line abuse and even, on occasion, death threats. Has the personal price you have had to pay for your art been worth it?
CL: Smear campaigns and death threats is nothing compared to what Palestinians have to endure. So it’s OK for me.
HC: You’ve been accused of anti-Semitism in the past, a slur levelled against many who speak out against the Israeli state. Have such accusations made you more cautious with your art?
CL: No way! These continuous allegations of anti-Semitism against my cartoons, against Palestinian solidarity activists, boycott campaigns, it’s all related to a well-known strategy of the Zionist lobby in order to silence criticism against Israel.
HC: In a previous interview, when discussing censorship, which is a focus of many of your drawings, you say that if one site bans your pictures, it appears on ten others and that “the web is the theatre for virtual guerrilla tactics”. How important has the internet been in getting your message out to the world?
CL: Without the Internet I could only rely on the mainstream media to spread my artwork and opinions. Now with the Internet I can share my cartoons to all the corners of the world. Without the Internet you would never know about me :)
HC: What is your view of freedom of expression and art? Is there anything that should be entirely off limits?
CL: Respect, that’s everything we need to have in mind. There’s a BIG difference between criticism and attack. The cartoons about Mohammed, for example, are pure hatred against Muslims, it’s not about criticism or freedom of speech.
HC: You encourage people to distribute your art for free and you do not copyright your material. This seems to reaffirm your anti-capitalist stance. It feels as though your art is intended to be a gift to the oppressed people you draw about. Is this how you feel about it?
CL: The artwork I make for Palestinians, Egyptians and other causes is not professional; it’s an exercise of solidarity. I need for these cartoons reach a large audience because they have a message to deliver that is different from those you see in the mainstream media.
HC: One of the wonderful things about art is the way it transcends barriers of language, race, class and anything else. Your art has been viewed all around the world. Where is your art most well and least well received? For instance, given that American foreign policy is frequently the subject of criticism in your work, has your art been well received there?
CL: The oppressed are those who welcome my cartoons. The oppressors don’t.
HC: Of all of your political cartoons do you have a favourite one and if so why?
CL: The “We are all Palestinians” series where I compare the suffering of Palestinians with that of others throughout history.
HC: Do you plan to continue with this type of work for the foreseeable future or do you have something different planned for the next few years?
CL: The only plan I have is to make something useful for people’s struggles everywhere.
LATUFF ON THE WEB: