Long before the Syrian upheaval, the Syrian regime knew the political weight and social influence that this art can trigger. For this reason, it has been widely censored and monitored. Artists in Syria were prompted to follow government-sponsored enterprises.
Syrian dissident ones had to accommodate a balance between a desire to criticize the regime. The implications of taking part in publicizing genuine criticism would be co-opted as pro-government propaganda, as a contribution to the regime’s soft-power endeavor in the country amid political popularity of Bashar Al-Assad modern governing era.
The regime recognizes how opening a small channel for dissent would glorify his image, ultimately without executing or endorsing any real threat at the Ba’ath authoritarian system.
After his arrival to power, Bashar Al-Assad understood the possible perils of artistic free expression. To stream a liberal modernized new leadership of Syria, his new government-approved recommission of Magazines, which encouraged artists such as Ali Ferzat to relaunch his Magazine Al-Domari.
The newspaper was the first independent periodical in Syria since the Baath Party came to power in 1963. The first version of the paper came out in February 2001, and the entire 50,000 copies were sold in a couple of hours. In 2002, Ferzat won the prestigious Dutch Prince Claus Award for “achievement in culture and development”. By 2003, however, the overwhelming government censorship and lack of funds forced Farzat to close down al-Domari.
During the Syrian revolution, Farzat had been more direct in his anti-Assad cartoons, explicitly targeting government figures, particularly the head of the state Bashar Al-Assad himself. After the fall of Tripoli in late August at the hands of the rebels seeking to topple Muammar al-Gaddafi, the artist published a cartoon depicting Bashar al-Assad clutching a briefcase running to catch a ride with Gaddafi who was later killed by the rebels.
Anything that diverged outside the publicization and cheering of Assad’s rule was considered a threat. In August 2011, Ferzat was attacked and had his head broken, which drove him to leave the country.
As part of the public political civil rights movement, the use of Cartoons as a means of illustrating anti-regime street art snowballed. As a manifestation of freedom of expression, Cartoon naturally connects with the public struggle and means of expressing frustration and contempt of certain occurrences. Accompanied by social media platforms, Cartoon had a compelling role in advocating for the peaceful demonstration demands and rhetoric beyond the banners that upheld them.
Cartoon images continuously emerged from many areas in Syria sharing these messages with people, not just in Syria, but around the world turning these paintings as an advocacy artwork of the Syrian struggle for freedom.
The north-western Syrian town of Kafranbil has long been dignified as the Cartoon machinist and creative hub of Syria’s revolution manufacturing Cartoon and caricature paintings since the very beginning of the revolution in 2011. The village’s artists are famous for their bold posters and banners, often written in English, parodying President Bashar al-Assad. In addition to their critics to the local authorities the corruption within the Syrian opposition entities.
Although in recent months, the city had its residents displaced after the Assad-Russian militant gained a foothold in the city, the artistic deeds continue to flourish and rise through its artists online to advocate for the Syrian cause around the world.
Ahmad Al Khalil, a decedent cartoonist from KafrNabil who began practicing this art during the revolution only, since his family has painting natural skills. His first painting depicted Bashar Al-Assad in one of the city’s demonstrations. Ever since he continuously used painting to criticize politicians and policies surrounding Syria’s revolt.
From the regime perspective, nothing could be more antagonistic and dangerous than the ability to broadcast these images widely. Art is a weapon; thus all authorities try to suppress itAhmad Al Khalil – cartoonist from KafrNabil
Al Khalil explains that Cartoon echoes and reflects people’s struggle, frustration, resistance, aspiration, and ambition in a visually attractive method.
Despite the progress and development of artistic awareness and liberties in north Syria, many barriers surface artists in Syria.
“Although they have been freed from the Ba’ath censorship and exclusion of creativity, though radical groups also are following the same path, negatively impacting Cartoon’s freedom by continuously censoring and intimidating artists,”
Following a painting depicting Al-Nusra in his city criminality in the city, the artist had to leave his hometown and reside outside in Turkey.
“Unfortunately, in northern Syria, we have largely totalitarian dictatorship authorities who do not tolerate art and accept any criticism. They still have the same mentality of Al-Ba’ath of exclusion and violence against nonviolent means of freedom of expression.”