His work is controversial; and he is willing to tackle divisive issues such as the double standards towards Israel, American military atrocities and police brutality in his home country of Brazil. In a rare interview Yehia Darwish talks with this cartoonist and activist about his work and his life.
While many people in Egypt may not have heard of Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff they are likely to have seen and even re-posted his cartoons in support of the Egyptian revolution on their social network pages. Latuff is best known for his simple yet straightforward and politically-charged caricatures conveying piercing criticism on injustices faced, not only by Egyptians during the Revolution and its aftermath, but also in other parts of the world.
Born in 1968 in Rio de Janeiro, Latuff exhibited artistic talent from an early age. He credits Hanna Barbera features, like the Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, for sparking his initial interest in cartoons. Latuff kicked off his career at a small advertisement company in downtown Rio in 1989, followed by some jobs at leftist union newspapers, until his work was published in such reputable publications like the Brazilian edition of MAD magazine, Le Monde Diplomatique and The Toronto Star.
Latuff’s works were also featured online in a series entitled, We are all Palestinians. The collection depicted struggles for equality all over the world; relating the battle against apartheid and the plight of Native Americans to the persecution of Palestinians. In addition, his Tales of the Iraq War is a comic book-like series on the quasi-fictional insurgency sniper “Jubba” fighting Americans, amongst other depictions. Since he began posting on the web in 1997, his internet platform reached a large international audience especially with the rise of social media and blogs; his animated activism gained him an underground brand of fame which keeps growing in strength each day.
The definitive moment when Latuff first felt he made a difference was when he shared his work with the Zapatista Movement based in Mexico. The movement uses nonviolent and defensive actions in their fight against government and corporate violations of the rights of indigenous peoples and incursions into their lands. “I made cartoons about the Zapatista Movement and shared them with the Zapatistas. I first sent them via fax and then used a website as an online image bank. When I saw my cartoons were useful for the Zapatistas, I realized that my art could be a powerful political instrument,” Latuff says.
Although Latuff grew up in Brazil, he has roots in the Middle East, and was therefore impacted by the events of the Arab Spring, as well as other issues in the region. “When I got in touch with the Palestinian struggle, the doors of the Arab World were opened to me. My contact with Egyptian affairs first happened during the Mahalla workers strike in 2007; it became even more dramatic when protesters contacted me two days before January 25 of 2011, asking me for cartoons to be used in the planned protests,” Latuff recalls.
Given Latuff’s penchant for kicking the hornets’ nest, it’s no surprise that he participated in the controversial Iranian International Holocaust Cartoon Competition, organized in response to the offensive cartoons on Prophet Muhammad published in Danish newspapers. After winning second place in the competition, Latuff was accused of being an anti-Semite by some in the western media. He rejected the accusations stressing that his cartoons were aimed at Israel as a political entity and at Israeli atrocities towards Palestinians, rather than against Jews or Judaism. He said that the campaign associating him with extremists was aimed to discredit his criticism. Yet that was not the only challenge he faced as a result of his work, “In Brazil I was often called in by police to explain my cartoons and graffiti depicting police brutality and corruption. I faced censorship, and even threats, due my cartoons.” he recalled.
To stay inspired, Latuff keeps up with the latest news, and closely follows Twitter and other social media outlets. Of course, sometimes his work is just the result of “pure inspiration,” as he puts it. Looking ahead, Latuff doesn’t foresee any big career changes. Cartooning is his life, and he’s quite content with that; and given the uncertainty that’s swept the Arab region, he should have no shortage of material any time soon. “No one can predict the future, but I think after what happened in the January 25 Revolution Egyptian and Arab societies will never be the same,” he says.
Latuff vows to continue drawing attention to the plight of individuals and nations the world over. By bravely speaking out through his cartoons, Carlos Latuff proves that the pen is mightier than the sword and the oppression it represents.