Friday 26 December 2008

An interview with Carlos Latuff, cartoonist/activist

He has been alternatively praised and vilified in the press for his depictions of suffering in places like the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, and the slums of Latin America. But Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff says he is not out to please anyone. MENASSAT spoke with Latuff on the heals of a newly released series of cartoons about Iraqi journalist Muntazer Al-Zaidi.


Scenes from Carlos Latuff’s comic-book, Captain Iraq - flank a real-world hero in the Arab world: the Iraqi shoe-throwing journalist, Muntazer Al-Zaidi. © Carlos Latuff

BEIRUT, December 23, 2008 (MENASSAT) — Carlos Latuff, 40, is nothing short of a one-man cartoon wrecking-ball when he hits the ink.
Based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Latuff has spent the last 15 plus years crafting a style that can best be described as “populist cartooning.” He has touched on issues like Apartheid in South Africa, the plight of Native Americans in the US and the oppression of Tibetans in China.

But perhaps his most controversial series to date is “We are all Palestinians,” in which he compares the actions taken by the Israeli government towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip directly to the Nazi’s treatment of Jews.

In a December interview with the Jewish cultural scholar Eddy Portnoy, Latuff said, “It happens to be Israeli Jews that are the oppressors of Palestinians. If they were Christians, Muslims or Buddhists, I would criticize them the same way.”

Latuff’s cartoon series of world leaders like former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, outgoing US president George W. Bush and British PM Tony Blair conjure up the distorted, monster-like depictions of UK-based stencil graffiti artist, Shepard Farley.

And his irreverent take on recent issues like the Bush shoe-throwing incident with the Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi has continued to stir-up hundreds of online comments equally praising and decrying his work.

i-heart-girl writes in one online forum, “Your pieces have inspired me to keep hoping, praying, and working for peace and the end of corruption, no matter how fruitless the attempt may seem. I hope you can continue to bring awareness to the ignorant.”

MENASSAT reached Latuff in Rio de Janeiro and conducted this on-line interview.

MENASSAT: Can you tell us about your personal history? Your biography says you’re 40-years-old. How long have you been a cartoonist?

CARLOS LATUFF: I have been a professional artist since 1989. I started as an illustrator for a small advertising agency and then worked as a political cartoonist for leftist trade union papers in 1990. But I’ve been drawing since I was a kid.

MENASSAT: Why did you decide to focus on issues relating to the Arab world?

CARLOS LATUFF: My work doesn’t only concern the Arab world. I also draw cartoons about concerns closer to home, like the police brutality in Brazil, the right-wing conspiracy against Evo Morales and his administration in Bolivia, and elsewhere, about events like the Russia-Georgia crisis, the riots in Greece, and so on. I do have a special focus on Palestine because of the time I spent there. When I was in the West Bank in 1999, I decided I would support the Palestinian struggle with my art.

MENASSAT: You’ve characterized your work as controversial. What is at the heart of your cartoons that makes them controversial?

CARLOS LATUFF: Touching the taboo of the Palestinian-Israeli [conflict] is always controversial, especially when you take the side of the oppressed. My art intends to break the common perception of the issue and it challenges the mainstream version of the conflict.

MENASSAT: Your work has been featured on Independent Media Center sites ( worldwide and in more mainstream publications like The Toronto Star. Which outlets have more impact on the public and does that matter to you?

CARLOS LATUFF: Having my cartoons shown from time to time in the mainstream media is only a consequence. The method I rely on the most to distribute my drawings are the good people throughout the world that are willing to reproduce my images online, via email, on their websites, etcetera.

MENASSAT: Your cartoon series, “We are all Palestinians,” published on the Swiss Independent Media Center (IMC) site in 2002 prompted a Jewish organization to level the charge of anti-Semitism towards your work. A Swiss court suspended the criminal proceedings, but do you think it was anti-Semitism?

CARLOS LATUFF: Regarding cartoons and anti-Semitism, I have a recent interview with Eddy Portnoy, which clarifies my opinion about this on my blog, Tales of Iraq War. As a cartoonist, I feel comfortable enough to make any comparison I think necessary that expresses my point. Metaphors are the key point to political cartooning. Of course Israel isn’t building gas chambers in the West Bank, but surely we can find some similarities between the treatment given to Palestinians by the [Israel Defense Forces] and the Jews under Nazi rule.

Inaccurate or not, it’s important to highlight that such comparisons have been made worldwide—not only by cartoonists but by people such as Yosef ‘Tommy’ Lapid, Ariel Sharon’s former Justice Minister and a Holocaust survivor [who died in June of 2008.] He said in 2004, during an interview, that a photo of an elderly Palestinian woman searching through rubble reminded him of his grandmother who died in Auschwitz. For me, this is more painful than comparisons of how Palestinians live under Israeli occupation.

My cartoons have no focus on the Jews or on Judaism. My focus is Israel as a political entity, as a government, their armed forces being a satellite of US interests in the Middle East, and especially Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. It happens to be Israeli Jews that are the oppressors of Palestinians. If they were Christians, Muslims or Buddhists, I would criticize them the same way. I made cartoons about George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Tony Blair, [former Mexican President] Ernesto Zedillo, [former Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet, and none of them were Jewish.

I insult the Muslims with a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a [suicide] bomber and claim the right to freedom of speech, but if you make drawings about the Holocaust, then it’s hatred against the Jews.

MENASSAT: On your deviant art page, you list SebastiĆ£o Salgado as a big influence. A lot of his work has dealt with the oppressed and downtrodden in societies, and
 his assignments are often lengthy ones. Do you look to replicate this documentary approach with your cartoon work—as opposed to a one-off political cartoon?

CARLOS LATUFF: The cartoons I make aren’t directed at middle-class, bourgeoisie readers, so I really don’t care about what they think or believe. I make art for people living in Gaza, in Baghdad, in the slums of Latin America, ordinary people, the populace. I hope this art can serve to boost the morale of people suffering and the freedom fighters in every corner of the planet.




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