‘Body Talks’ launches first event with feminist comic artist Maya El Helou

Juliette Jabra
Editor-in-Chief

‘Body Talks’ debuted its inaugural event on Nov. 14, titled “Comic Relief: Surviving in a Sexist World”, featuring feminist comic artist Maya El Helou.

Assistant professors Sara Mourad and Kathryn Maude – both of whom coordinate the Women and Gender Studies minor – opened the talk by briefly acquainting the audience with ‘Body Talks,’ a “student-led series of talks and discussions on sex, gender, and sexuality”.

Mourad and Maude mentioned that the series of talks are co-organized by students from the Feminist Club, Gender and Sexuaity Club, Title IX Student Action Committee, as well as the Women and Gender Studies Initiative.

Ghazal Ali, President of the Feminist Club said, “By hosting people from different fields such as art, media, civil society, [to work] on these topics, and by integrating personal experiences in the discussions, we aim on formulating an approach that goes beyond the usual curriculum.”

The event, which focused on combatting humor within everyday sexism, took place at AUB and brought together approximately 50 audience members.

Helou, who is the founder and creator of the Facebook page “Comics Kill Joy” (Kharabish Nasawiya), initiated the talk by providing the audience with examples of everyday sexism, both in Beirut and the Arab world as a whole. These included misogynistic statements from politicians and comedians in Lebanon, in addition to the vandalism of feminist graffiti around Beirut.

She then proceeded to introduce her work, citing that she uses humour within her pop-art comics to “critique patriarchy.”

Helou then gave a brief history of ‘Kharabish’. She recounted the time she was at a bar with a friend, explaining how that very experience inspired the idea. “As everything else in my life, ‘Kharabish’ started as a joke,” she said.

“It was almost a year ago, and I made a pop-art post about what happened in the bar. I posted it on my own Facebook and it went slightly viral. It is frustrating not to have an artistic outlet for all the [patriarchal incidents] that we experience in our everyday life, and I wanted to change that,” she added.

Helou then skimmed through several of her pop-art posts, providing brief explanations for each. Many of the art pieces were met with laughter, indicating that members of the audience have experienced or are aware of the forms of sexism Helou brings to light through her pop-art, which is famous for its wittiness and sarcasm.

Notions such as body policing, catcalling, unjust laws towards women, stereotypes, family honour, the pressure to get married, queerness, and others, are all portrayed through Helou’s work.

Explaining the aim and basis of her work, Helou said, “I need to make something clear. The comics are taken off the Internet, made by other comics artists, but a lot of them have very sexist messages, and this is what I try to do in ‘Kharabish’; twist them in a way that [gives] them a feminist message.”

The hour-long conversation ended with a Q&A session, whereby several audience members commended Helou for her work, gave insight into ‘Kharabish’ and provided personal anecdotes relating to the pop-art comics.

The event marks the launch of ‘Body Talks’ as a larger project of events and talks. “The aim is to show that ideas about gender and sexuality aren’t just academic questions, but are involved in day-to-day experience – these are questions that affect all of us in the world every day. By bringing in external speakers and hearing from students themselves, we hope it will broaden the conversation about gender and sexuality at AUB,” said Maude.

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