Meet Class 13: Khalid Albaih

Madlen Popignatova 18
March 7th, 2018
Article by: Laurel Dault
Meet Class 13: Khalid Albaih

Khalid Albaih once told a journalist, “If you were to ask me where I’m from, I would say I’m from Internet.”

 

Born in Romania, Khalid grew up in Sudan until the age of 10 when his family fled to Qatar for political and economic refuge. Today, the acclaimed Sudanese artist and political cartoonist lives in Denmark, where he’s part of an artist-in-residence program for creatives who are threatened in their own country.

 

Khalid’s provocative illustrations provide social and political commentary on events in the Middle East and around the world. He calls his satirical series “Khartoon!”– a play on Sudan’s capital Khartoum.

 

Khalid’s cartoons have been widely shared, going viral multiple times over the past decade. Through his art, Khalid comments on everything from the Syrian civil war, to Charlie Hebdo, to race relations in the United States. During the Arab Spring, his images became icons of the revolution, shared widely on social media and replicated as graffiti on walls from Cairo to Beirut.

Losing the ‘social’ in social media

In 2015, Khalid preferred sharing his art online instead of in gallery exhibitions, where he says it felt like he was preaching to the choir. He saw the web as the best platform to talk to people who held a different point of view. It provided a space to debate, exchange ideas, and make an impact.

“That’s changed now though,” shares Khalid, “because in 2015 Facebook algorithms weren’t as they are today.”

Over the past few years, Facebook has changed how it presents content, opting to show users items they’re likely to agree with or “like” instead of more controversial material. Khalid says that was a game changer. “The people that like what I do [on Facebook] are people who believe in these kinds of things anyway. I’m not changing anybody’s mind.”

Meanwhile, Khalid says that newer platforms such as Snapchat have removed the social aspect of social media. “Because now again it’s one-to-one, it’s not a conversation. It’s not an ongoing argument of people posting this and posting that. That was a beautiful thing about the internet because I learned a lot from it. But now that doesn’t really happen anymore.”

“That’s why I made the move from only doing cartoons and hoping things will change. I think that has had its time. The same people that we were fighting against and trying to penetrate, the people who had all the power controlling the news are now are the same people who own the internet. So, we lost that fight. But we’ll keep changing, we’ll keep finding solutions.”

Khalid Albaih
'The same people that we were fighting against who had all the power controlling the news are now are the same people who own the internet.' via @khalidalbaih #Internet #NetNeutrality Click To Tweet

Going public

For Khalid, the next frontier is to create an art and design space for the public in Sudan.

“I want this institution to be open, I want it to be a learning place. For people that come there to go out with knowledge that they can produce from and create more.”

The space will include an art and design library, a Sudanese art collection, maker-spaces, and provide a meeting point for the community.

As an artist-in-residence, Khalid spends most of his time in Copenhagen’s public libraries. Growing up in a country where people weren’t allowed to gather, he is in awe of the open space that anyone can visit. “I love how public the public library is. I’ve been to many countries but I’d never seen a system like this before. It’s beautiful.”

Khalid is passionate about supporting the next generation of young artists in Sudan. When he visits, Khalid collaborates with local artists, but there are often limitations to what they can accomplish because of their limited access to resources. “Because of the sanctions, you can’t even update your phone in Sudan. You’re totally cut off.”

He describes how Google Images is often the furthest inspiration available for artists in his homeland. “As a designer you need inspiration, so you have to see to create. If you don’t see, you’re never going to create.”

Khalid Albaih
'As a designer you need inspiration, so you have to see to create. If you don’t see, you’re never going to create.' via @khalidalbaih #artist #creativity #inspiration Click To Tweet

The importance of seeing

Khalid believes in the importance of seeing, not just for artists, but for creating a better community for all citizens. He observes that the countries with the greatest turmoil are those where citizens cannot freely travel to see how other countries and systems are different than their own. “Most people don’t see any better so they think this is the best that there is.”

“Here [in Denmark], people that live in this great atmosphere, this social system with libraries and museums, they don’t think of it as a big deal because it’s just there. This is what they’re used to, it’s normal.”

“Think of exactly the total opposite over there [in Sudan]. People think of being in the worst environment possible as normal. Whether it’s hospitals or whether it’s schools or whether it’s just human rights, it’s normal. It’s normal for a police person to slap you around in the streets. It’s normal not to have full access to any information that you want.”

Khalid Albaih
When citizens cannot freely travel to see how other countries and systems are different than their own, many people don’t see any better so they think this is the best that there is.' via @khalidalbaih Click To Tweet

With a focus on art for social change, the ultimate vision for the center is that the artists who collaborate there will eventually go to the government with ideas and designs of how to improve the city. “I want to have a center that is not an escape from Sudan; the building and its beauty doesn’t end with its border. I want it to grow.”

A step forward

In January, Khalid attended a conference and met three THNKers who work in the creative industries to make social impact: Hussa Al Humaidhi, Alexandre Fernandes Filho, and Ala’a Ghanimah. Drawn to their energy, he was fascinated by their respective projects. From that connection, Khalid says, “They all just looked at each other and were like ‘He could be a THNKer.’” Three weeks later, he registered for the Executive Leadership Program.

While at THNK, Khalid looks forward to learning how to translate his passion into impact. “I want to learn how to push to make things happen. I’m looking to learn how to make the right connections. I’m looking for alternative, unorthodox ways of doing things.”

Khalid recognizes the challenge he faces in setting up an art and design center for the public in Sudan. “Where we come from, it’s absolutely a miracle for something like this to happen, because it will be a nightmare for the government to have all these creatives together in one place. They’re scared of that.”

When asked what gives him the resilience to take on such a challenging project, Khalid is clear. “I want a better life for my kids in Sudan. I’m not saying this center is going to be the solution for all problems in Sudan, but it will help. It’s a step forward and this is all we can do. I think it’s my duty to do it.”

Follow Khalid on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr

To discover how to build your own movement and to join the upcoming Executive Leadership Program, find out if you qualify or download the program brochure on the program page.

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