"Cartooning became a communicative performance. A solitary medium that normally relied on only Mazen’s 'mind and paper” suddenly generated community feedback outside Lebanon...'
Mazen Kerbaj, Cartoonist and experimental musician, April 2008

The Sounds of Lebanon’s conflict portrayed in cartoons

Personalizing war

Between July 12th and August 14th, 2006, amidst a cacophonic backdrop of bombs, sirens, and mortar fire echoing throughout Beirut, cartoonist and experimental musician Mazen Kerbaj was frenetically at work sketching over 200 cartoons and recording over 9 hours of music. For the young Lebanese artist, his impassioned and vivid drawings and his unusual "noise typology" served not only to document experiences, but also to personally and emotionally release himself from the affects of yet another war.

'The World Is Sleeping'

Mazen was just a child when he experienced his first war, the 15 year Lebanese civil war. He began drawing cartoons at five - a hobby inspired from his older brother. The youngest son of well-known actor Antoine Kerbaj and artist Laure Ghorayeb, Mazen seemed destined for artistic expression. Today he uses both cartoons and music to convey the same emotions, although he affirms the personal process and immediate effect of each are normally quite different.


'Music Always' (left), 'Different Wars'

During the 2006 Lebanon/Israel conflict, Mazen started his website kerblog to share the drawings inspired by the chaos unfolding around him and the anxiety building within him. For the first time cartooning- a solitary medium that normally relied on only his “mind and paper” - suddenly generated community feedback. Friends and family outside of Lebanon could get insight on what was happening as soon as Mazen posted his work online. Cartooning became a communicative performance. Over the course of the 34-day war, Mazen admittedly got very close with his drawings. It also allowed those outside Lebanon to get a more personal and intimate look into war beyond the newspapers and mass media accounts.

Drawing on Emotion

Mazen is an artist of many talents - cartoons, music, painting, performance, and installation art. He professes his work, and in particular his cartoons, is not inherently apolitical, but rather anti-war. And while art and music critics are inclined to associate his experimental sounds, his improvisational style, and untraditional methods to a much grandeur political or social statement, Mazen insists his work allows him to stay sane, counterbalance the horrors of war, and transpose his anger. He is not consciously producing war sounds in the industrial mechanics of his music, or delivering political statements in his edgy artwork. Nonetheless, his artistic methods invite the audience to contemplate the larger political and social context from which Mazen creates.

Post-war Blues

After the war, Mazen candidly explained how he, like many other artists, went through a period of “after-war blues”- a response to the aftermath of such intense emotion and heightened creativity during the war. All the energy and flourishing of art during periods of unrest and instability suddenly came to a halt. Though war is far from ideal, there can be positive after-effects from conflict. Both during and after such periods, community bonds can strengthen, individual needs can be redefined, and social balances can be reestablished. And yet in the aftermath of conflict, works like Mazen’s, including his weblog and his various musical events, will remain not only as artistic byproducts, but also careful reminders of how people are personally affected by war.

Amanda Fortier



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