Melhem Imad: Brushstrokes and Metaphors

We display here a collection of 80 original caricatures or editorial cartoons which were donated to the AUB Libraries by Mr. Charles Jackson Bird, who collected these cartoons when he was working at the al-Hayat newspaper, back in the 70s. His collecting these cartoons, and saving them for posterity was motivated by a realization of the power of editorial cartoons to crystallize a moment in history, and their ability to convey its wider contextual, social, cultural and political significance, in a concise and hard hitting manner.

Indeed, caricatures have a great ability to get a message across, to reach a very wide audience, and to impactfully convey an idea or an opinion, allowing the viewer to anchor an event in reality and yet use the free play of imagination, innuendo, resonances and context to extrapolate a wider meaning.

The 80 editorial cartoons were published in the daily Al-Hayat by the Lebanese Cartoonist Melhem Imad (1939-2017). Al-Hayat was founded by Kamel Mroueh in 1946. The newspaper’s main editors during the period in which the cartoons were published were Jamil Mroueh and Mohammad Annan. During those years, Al-Hayat represented a centrist approach, giving voice to various political views, while at the same time adopting a pan-Arab stance.

The collection spans the period between 1973 and 1975, at the dawn of the Lebanese civil war. Depicting turbulent times, the caricatures give a good glimpse onto the complex local as well as regional, international and socio-economic scene in the wake of the war that was about to ravage Lebanon for fifteen years, and claim hundreds of thousands of deaths and displacements. Even though Melhem Imad published daily for the Al-Hayat, we do have gaps in the cartoons at hand: the biggest cluster is between July and December of the year 1974.

 Among the issues that the caricatures tackle and illustrate are socio-economic problems (e.g. inflation, workers’ rights, electricity, etc.); the Arab/Israeli conflict; the rising political tension between the various coalitions of Lebanese and other Arab and Palestinian political parties, as well as various foreign policy related matters, specifically the international push and pull surrounding Lebanon during the cold war, Arab American relations, international socio-economic issues, specifically ones related to Arab oil resources, all ahead of the eruption of the Lebanese civil war.

Exhibit Curator: Mahmoud Rasmi

American University of Beirut / University Libraries / Bliss Street / P.O.Box 11-0236 / Riyad El-Solh, Beirut 11072020 Lebanon / ulcontactus@aub.edu.lb