Tunisian artist addresses prejudices with comic strips
Houda Al-Hassan, Friday 15 Aug 2014
For five years, Tunisian artist Mayada Gargouri has been using comic art to challenge stereotypes about the Maghreb region


Mayada Gargouri, a Tunisian artist living in France, was only four years old when she began scribbling her first drawings —representing a typical bed of roses — inspired by her childhood.

Now in her adulthood, the young woman discovers a reality totally different to the perceptions acquired during her tender years. She combines creativity and a sense of humour to reflect on these differences in original comic strips that she uploads to YouTube and Facebook.

Drawing becomes an austere way of representing the one thousand and one clichés that are inseparable from the image of the Magreband its community as imagined by other countries. As such, Gargouri unveils a truth about world we live in, one filled with media transmitting false messages.

"For ages, the European media conveys two images of women, both contrasting and negative. On the one hand, we have an image of a religious woman, submissive, oppressed and dependent on men, and on the other hand we see a woman that is completely detached from religion, which is superficial and unpredictable, resembling some characters of Arab Maghreb origins appearing in French reality TV," Gargouri told Ahram Online.

In order to confront this intellectual trap — emphasised also by the French education system — Gargouri opts for the middle ground.

Desperate Blédardes (Desperate Homies), a comic series whose first episode was released in 2009 with the scenario co-written by Gargouri's sister,Maissa, focuses on the lives of four Maghrebian women: sisters Mayada and Maissa from the Bentaba family, and their friends, Sofya and Nadia.

Conversations between Bentaba family members reveal that Maghrebian women may also have a life that can be described as normal, with its ups and downs, joys and sorrows.

"My characters are from the Maghreb's middle class, yet I target a much wider socio-cultural scope," Mayada Gargouri explains.

Mrs Bentaba, the protagonist, educates her daughters. The scenes take us deep into the Maghrebian markets in Paris, but also to other French cities, big and small. Contrary to the image promoted by Western media, Bentaba ladies have a sense of humour, go to school, and do not practice prostitution. Neither their mother wears the niqab (full face veil), norsharesthe household with three rivals (other wives of her husband).

Apart of the messages, it is worth noting Gargouri's drawing skills. "I never took any drawing class; I learned everything by myself, including all technical aspects of comic production. My studies and my professional life resides in other areas, while drawing is my passion," Gargouri comments.

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Social media and the power of the click!

The story of Desperate Blédardes,which first saw light in 2009 on YouTube as a non-animated video series (drawings without animation movements), is one linked to the age of social media.

"The growth of the series' popularity on social media was very spontaneous. At first, my drawings were shared by my immediate circle: friends and their friends. Step by step, the circle began to widen. Today, classical comics replaced my old videos, yet the success is the same," Gargouri explains humbly.

In fact, the comics' popularity soared. In a very short time they attracted the attention of several companies wishing to communicate via Gargouri's drawings.

Drawing, just like any art form, is a commitment. Drawing also has the power to address attitudes, move the spirit, and correct misconceptions, whether simple or complex.

Gargouria adds that her main aim is to pass positive messages using the language of humour. "In the world of design, we have a quasi-complete freedom of expression. This is why we dedicate ourselves to it completely. We also use a light spirit on our Facebook page, so as to make sure that it becomes a place of relaxation, love and peace."

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