In times where media dictates our views on the world, social inclusivity is more and more important. That’s where Deena’s art, a breath of fresh air, comes into play!
Deena Mohamed is an illustrator and graphic designer who first started creating comics at 18. Her satirical webcomic about a visibly Muslim superheroine, Qahera, addressed social issues and got immediate reactions.
Challenging subjects revolving around women empowerment and diversity is not an easy task, but she has managed to bravely take a stand, attracting attention from big media outlets such as the BBC, the Times, Foreign Policy, and even got awarded as Best Digital Comic at the first Cairo Comix Festival.
Her debut graphic novel, Shubeik Lubeik, is an urban fantasy set in an alternate Cairo that explores a world where you can buy and sell wishes. It won Best Graphic Novel and the Grand Prize of the Cairo Comix Festival (2017) and was published by Dar el Mahrousa in 2018. An English translation has been acquired by Pantheon, an imprint of Penguin Random House (US) and Granta (UK), and is due to be released in 2021. The second volume of Shubeik Lubeik was released in Arabic in 2019.
Her work has been featured in exhibitions around the world and she has worked with local and international clients such as Harrasmap and Mada Masr. In 2017, the Washington Post featured her as one of the Five women changing the world for the better for International Women’s Day.
Her art career keeps unfolding, as she has recently been commissioned to create the Google Doodle celebrating Mufida Abdel Rahman, which was shown across the Middle East and North Africa.
We are proud to see young and fresh voices fighting for culturally relevant content and a better future! She was kind enough to give us an interview, so here’s a peek into her lovely perspective!
WHAT WOULD MAKE YOUR SOUL SING? WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?
Ordering McDonald’s after midnight.
A CHILDHOOD STORY THAT ANNOUNCED THE CREATIVE PERSON YOU ARE TODAY
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, but as a child, I used to go to my grandmother’s house and spend hours drawing on the inside of my grandfather’s Cleopatra cigarette cartons.
My grandmother would open it up and the inside was clean white cardboard that you could draw on, and she let me draw with a pen because the cardboard was a little bit too slippery for a pencil.
This was really entertaining for me, and it got me used to drawing with a pen, which forces you to draw strong, sure strokes because you can’t erase them. I think more kids should be allowed to draw with pens. My mother wasn’t a fan because I would end up finishing the ink in all the pens in the house.
BEST CONTEXT EVER FOR INSPIRATION WAS
Being stuck in traffic, always. I don’t think I’ve had a single creative thought that wasn’t conceived in Cairo traffic.
THE PROJECT YOU LOVED MOST
Probably my graphic novel trilogy, Shubeik Lubeik. It’s an urban fantasy set in an alternate universe Cairo where you can buy and sell bottled wishes, and the more expensive they are, the more powerful their ability to fulfill your desire.
It’s still an on-going project, and it’s my third year working on it, so if I didn’t love it I would probably have hated my life. But I’m proud of how it came out, and I’m excited to have it completed and preserved as a part of my life. I feel like it accurately represents my interests and the kind of work I like to make – a little bit of fantasy, a lot of realism, a surprise dragon here and there.
THE PROJECT OTHERS LOVED MOST
Probably my webcomic, Qahera. The only reason I got into comics was that Qahera went viral back in 2013. I didn’t expect it to be so popular among so many readers, and I still get emails about it to this day. I never considered it my best work, so I actually didn’t know how to handle all the attention because I never thought it was as good as people claimed it was. Now I’m at peace with the entire situation, though.
THE BEST THING ABOUT EGYPTIAN CREATIVITY IS
I feel like Egyptian creativity is the only thing sustaining Egypt right now. I don’t really know about “Egyptian creativity” as a concept – it differs so much from field to field, discipline to discipline. But I feel like the people who are trying to be creative, the people who host workshops, the people who write book reviews online, the people who make murals… are doing unappreciated work. It makes a difference in how we live. I think I feel most relaxed when I enter an art studio and I see some old paintbrushes and a dried palette. Things can’t be that bad as long as people still want to create.
BEST STATEMENT OF EGYPTIAN HUMOR
I don’t know. Here’s a good meme tho:
The meme says “If not for the free officers (the generals who masterminded the ’52 revolution that dethroned our king and British colonialism), you would be speaking English right now!” and the response is “I wish… I’m having so much trouble with my English courses!” (usually to pass a work requirement such as TOEFL). This is, of course, an utterly humorless explanation, as most translation is, but I think it’s funny because it’s a great acknowledgment of how we ended up here.
ADVICE FOR INTERNATIONAL HEADHUNTERS, RELATED TO EGYPTIAN CREATIVES
Make the effort. A lot of Egyptian creatives don’t use the same outlets as creatives in other countries – most of them don’t have their own website, more use Facebook than Instagram, and a ton are on Behance, which many headhunters might not look at.
A lot of Egyptian creatives don’t have access to self-marketing resources or aren’t necessarily as good at promoting themselves in English. But they’re still easy to find if you make an effort: ask someone who knows someone, searches through hashtags on Instagram and Facebook.
Websites like Egyptian Streets, Cairo Scene, and Identity Magazine regularly highlight local talents in English.
But the second half of this is the follow-up. Tons of headhunters put out open calls via third-person contacts and never follow up. And tons of headhunters don’t specify budget, or style, or timeline. Simply “we are looking for an Egyptian illustrator.” This is honestly one of the worst ways to do this.
Thousands of people get tagged, are forced to self-promote in comments, etc. It’s better to ask around, and then e-mail or direct message people whose work catches your eye. And even then, it’s important to distinguish who you are talking to. Really look at their work, and ask if that’s what you want, or if they are simply the first artist you found. And always, always pay a fair international wage.
BEST PLACE IN CAIRO
I know this isn’t asking about food, but Kokio Chicken in Maadi.
BEST PLACE IN EGYPT
Probably the Library of Alexandria.
MOST DISTURBING CLICHÉ ABOUT EGYPT, IN THE MEDIA OUTLETS OF THE WORLD IS
Are the media outlets of the world even talking about us anymore? I feel like we’re kind of yesterday’s news. I don’t know, I guess there’s the stereotype of us living in pyramids, traveling by camel, or being, like, super misogynistic, I don’t know. I wish we did live in pyramids. I know they’re tombs, but still. Cool.
I am coming to realize I have grown unconcerned with Egypt’s image in the global scene as of late. I am invested in Egyptian artists and creatives, and I wish they got more well-deserved appreciation inside and outside Egypt, but as a country, I honestly do not care much. I do care about the way our art and our output and our personhood are perceived, through the lens of colonialism, racism, and so on. But I feel like that’s more than a media cliche, and it’s more than Egypt.
EGYPT SHOULD BE KNOWN FOR
Whatever we’re known for already, I don’t know… pyramids and stuff. It’s fine.
YOUR VIEWS ON SPIRITUALITY
Kokio Chicken in Maadi. It’s really good fried chicken.
YOUR VIEWS ON MONEY
They should give more of it to artists.
AN INSPIRATION SOURCE YOU RECOMMEND FOR A YOUNG CREATIVE
Ah, this is so much pressure! There are so many different sources of inspiration for different fields and disciplines! I recommend youtube tutorials for literally anything you might want to do, and the movie Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse for the motivation to do the best you possibly can when you do it.
AN EGYPT BASED FEMALE TALENT THAT DESERVES TO BE PROMOTED AT INTERNATIONAL LEVEL, AS EXPONENT OF LOCAL CREATIVE SPIRIT
I feel like calling her a female talent is honestly an understatement but I love the work of director Kamla Abu-Zikry, who is in my opinion one of the finest filmmakers in Egypt.