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New Comic Exhibit in Dubai Shines Light on MENA Cultures through a Novel Artform

Exploring a novel form of literature, Arab Comics are in the spotlight, following the opening of a new exhibition at Dubai’s Jameel Art Centre. Focusing on the Arab world’s narrative via comic books and graphic novels, the research display, dubbed “Library Circles”, is a rare opportunity to see some of the most prominent works from a region that is less documented for its creative endeavors in this domain. 

The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between David Hirsch and Art Jameel. An avid fan of comics, graphic novels, and manga, the Philadelphia-born librarian has collected pieces since 1990, soon after he began working for UCLA in the United States in 1989. His career has thusly focused on the Middle East, where he has worked around the Arab World throughout his career. He is considered by many to be a leading expert on the Middle Eastern comic scene. This new exhibition includes many pieces from his private collection, as well as others acquired by Jameel Library. 

Each country in the Arab World has seen a different evolution of the comic scene throughout its history. Hirsch points out that in Lebanon for example, the comic book scene is becoming better known, pointing to the existence of comic book awards and festivals, as well as it being a taught subject at the American University of Beirut. He also mentions that Saudi Arabia’s Manga Con and the Comic Con in Dubai as other examples of the comic culture which have taken root throughout the region. Algeria is another example of a country which has published many titles, though they are more commonly published in French. 

Comic Books Serve Providing Insights to Current Trends

The comic book, while not as popular in the Middle East when compared to markets like the United States and Europe, nevertheless remains a powerful testament to the values of the region, and offers a closer look at the different socio-political trends and dynamics currently in play across the region. Emirati author Hamda Saad’s comic “Shamma” paints the portrait of an Emirati girl who receives a promotion at work, showing how the character navigates the new challenges at the office and at home. Another example would be “The 99”, a comic book serie  written by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa. The series follows a team of superheroes, with superpowers based off the 99 attributes of God in Islam. The 25-part series has been subsequently translated into eight languages, including English and Spanish. It has since attracted a wide and far-reaching audience, while allowing readers to understand religion and to make the topic more accessible. 

The “Library Circles” exhibit offers a glimpse into this unique art, and the creators behind these incredible works. For those fortunate enough to visit in person, they are in for quite the treat!