WATERVILLE — The son of a diplomat whose family was forced to leave their home in Sudan after a political coup in 1989, Khalid Albaih was told from a young age to be careful of what he said and avoid politics.

So he did the opposite — becoming a political cartoonist whose work gained international attention during the Arab Spring and continues to resonate with viewers around the world.

Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist, is a human rights fellow this year at Colby College in Waterville.

Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist, is a human rights fellow this year at Colby College in Waterville.

He’s been arrested twice and told by newspapers that they wouldn’t publish his work because it could get them in trouble.

“I thought that was the point,” said Albaih, 35, speaking recently at Colby College where he is the 2016 Oak Fellow at the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights.

For the next few months he will work and teach at Colby, helping to bring attention to the intersection of human rights and the arts through his cartoons, which he largely publishes online and on Facebook.

His images range from lighthearted takes on the role of social media in the technology age to more serious subjects such as war in Syria, Islamaphobia and U.S. military practices in the Middle East, striving to bring the perspective of Arab people to western culture.

One cartoon that recently went viral, titled “Choices for Syrian children,” highlights the tragic struggles faced by Syrian children both in their home country and as refugees. The cartoon depicts Omran Daqneesh, a 5-year-old boy injured in an Aleppo air strike under the words “If you stay,” along with an image of Alyan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian refugee whose body was found washed up on the beaches of a Greek island last year with the words “if you leave.”

635437_237855 cartoon.jpgEvery year since 1988, Colby’s Oak fellowship has brought a voice for international human rights to Maine to teach and find respite in the Waterville community.

Past fellows have included Jodi Koberinski, a Canadian activist focused on food sovereignty and equitable food systems, and Clare Byarugaba, an LGBT activist from Uganda who faced persecution in her home country for being a lesbian.

The son of a diplomat and an activist born in Romania, Albaih gravitated toward cartoons from an early age because they had both art and social aspects and provided a way of getting around restrictive censorship laws in Sudan.

“I found that things people don’t want to talk about, if it’s in the form of a cartoon or there’s something funny, people want to hear it,” he said.

After graduating from the Ajman University of Science and Technology, Albaih began creating political cartoons, publishing first on Facebook and the site Creative Comics. He quickly gained an audience of followers.

Before coming to Colby, Albaih was part of Culturunners, a collaboration of international artists and journalists focused on exploring the interconnectedness between the U.S. and Middle East, and traveled across the country studying the U.S. civil rights movement — something he said parallels the Arab Spring movement.

He largely shrugged off the sometimes dangerous nature of his job in an interview Tuesday, saying that “problems come with the territory,” and reminded students to not take for granted the right to free speech.

“A lot of times people don’t agree with you on something and that’s part of it — people not agreeing with you,” Albaih said. “A lot of times I’m not saying, ‘This is my opinion, everybody that doesn’t agree with it is uninformed.’ I’m just asking questions.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.