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Algerian graphic novelist reflects on art and language

<st week, the French and Francophone studies department invited Nawel Louerrad, an Algerian graphic novelist, to campus. Her work revolves around the philosophical journey into the value of life, love and art, as described in her speech, “Drawing and Narrating: An Algerian Experience.” Her remarks here are in translation.

Louerrad was born in Oran, Algeria, and spent time there and in France before moving to Montpellier, France for university. This did not last long—she soon returned to Algeria to practice scenography, or painting scenery for theatrical works, and drawing, which she has been passionate about since a young age.

“I am a child who never stopped drawing,” said Louerrad. “My practice has always been compulsive and very repetitive.”
Though Louerrad cannot recall any particularly inspiring paintings or animations, she suggested that Charles M. Schultz, creator of Peanuts, may have inspired some of her work. She said that her influences come from her background in theater. Choreographer Alain Platel and his company Les Ballets C de la B, she said, drove her towards storytelling.

“I consider my pages rather like a theatre stage,” said Louerrad. “The sets slide like canvases painted in a theatrical scene.”  
In her talk, language was a key area of focus. She emphasized the struggle of finding the right language to work in by describing the different Arabic dialects, many of which are not mutually intelligible.

“In which Arabic language am I supposed to write?” said Louerrad. Her dilemma of language and consistency is further fueled by the fact that children learn classical Arabic, which is not used in everyday conversation.

She often writes in French. When using Arabic in her comics, Louerrad uses a dialect from the city of Algiers so more Arabic speakers from different countries can understand her.

Black and white were the two most prominent colors recurring throughout her images.

“I have not mastered the use of black and white yet,” said Louerrad. She prefers to focus on two colors for now, as she said she “does not fully understand the use of other colors.”

In the speech, she spoke about her audience and their reactions to her work. Professional critics often criticize her because she writes for “Nawel”—for herself. This element of selfishness makes it difficult for people to access her story, they say. Nonetheless, Louerrad is making the effort to address a greater audience and go beyond self-directed works. She also avoids following any rules regarding her audience, which “varies in terms of social and ethnic backgrounds,” she said. She noted that people appreciated her discussion of social taboos and her own personal taboos, sensitive and controversial issues which are not often spoken about in Algeria. Examples of personal taboos she shared involved her familial information. Social taboos included issues such as mental illness.

Symbols are also extremely important in her drawings. For Louerrad, they carry valuable information. She likes to explore symbols found in what she called the “great works.” For instance, she described Jesus Christ as “an archetype of reconciliation of opposites. In some texts, he appears violent and lovable or godly and human.”


Louerrad also shared her thoughts on women and stereotypes in Algeria.

“I represent Algerian women but don’t fall into the stereotypes,” she said. It is her job and everyone else’s, she said, to not put people in boxes and to resist being put in boxes.

“Artists have to resist easy representations; they must combat undifferentiation and assert their individuality,” said Louerrad.
Some fascinating works of Louerrad’s appear in the newspaper El Watan Weekend, for which she worked as a press cartoonist. She described this experience as a time where she learned to stop being naïve. She started work during the Arab Spring, which exposed her to different perspectives of the revolutions, but her drawings were limited because the newspaper did not offer much space for expression.

“I left after a year,” she said. “Censorship was not the reason. I did not want to represent nor be a part of the people’s voices supporting the Arab Spring. I also became aware of the collective responsibility of speaking out, particularly in a period of risk.”
Louerrad has plans to work on a book titled The Apocalypse in John’s Book of Revelation. She plans on releasing this book in chapters, and showing her original works in France some time next year.

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