What do you picture when you hear that word?
Probably a man in a worn-out shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, hunched over a slanted writing desk with a pen in hand.
Or maybe you picture Naji Al-Ali and his infamous character, Handala.
Most likely, a woman isn’t the first image that comes to mind.
Sarah Alnomas proves that our unconscious gender assumptions are wrong.
Arab women – despite the long road we are still walking towards securing gender equality – are making steps forward every day. And every story is worth appreciating and celebrating.
Previously, we spoke to three Saudi women with unconventional talents.
Today, we hear from Sarah Alnomas, a Kuwaiti caricaturist for Al Rai newspaper. Sarah Alnomas is also, surprisingly, a geologist working with the exploration group at the Kuwait Oil Company.
Let’s get to know Sarah Alnomas.
When did your passion for caricature begin?
I was born into a family passionate about drawing. We’re all passionate about the visual arts. My first experience with caricature was drawing simple caricatures during middle school and high school.
During my studies at Kuwait University, I found myself in the art of caricature. Because of my passion for journalism, I worked as a caricaturist for the university newspaper, Afaq, as well as an editor for Al Qabas newspaper and ‘Alam Alyawm newspaper. After university, I had the chance to publish my work in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai, which adopted me as the first female caricaturist to publish in a Kuwaiti newspaper. While your passion for caricature was developing, you studied geology. Why did you choose geology as a career? . Are there any commonalities between caricature and geology?
I’ve loved science since I was a child. My dream was to be a scientist, so naturally I gravitated towards the College of Science. At the time, geology was the last option in my mind. I didn’t understand it and didn’t like to memorize. But in the end I settled on geology, which I discovered was a totally different field not accepted by all. I like doing things that not everyone accepts, and geology was part of that. I discovered that geology is a wonderful field that relies on imagination, deduction, and art to a large extent.
I then became a geology teacher. However, I felt uncomfortable conveying information from a book to the student directly. There was no room for innovation and research. A scientist conducts research and applies theory in their work and that was missing from education. For those reasons, I resigned and joined the discovery team at the Kuwait Oil Company, which is 100% reliant on geologists. This was my chance to keep learning through research, discovery, and innovation.
Given your experience, do you find it difficult to work in two different fields?
The difficulty is in managing time. During the day, I work at KOC. Thankfully, Al Rai does not require me to be present at work every day, so I can work from home. But sometimes it is fatiguing, as there is little time left for exercise or family. Friday is my rest and family day. Those are the problems I face. Perhaps my answer would be different if I were married, for example, as a married woman has more responsibilities and expectations placed on her. The solution is of course time management and committing to a rigorous work schedule.
Caricature is an artistic field dominated by men. What, in your view, are the reasons for this?
This isn’t surprising to me. Most people who follow my caricatures are men. Women are more often interested in fashion, home decor, and family, and if women are interested in art, they are usually interested in visual art and interior design.
Worldwide, it’s very rare to see a woman caricaturist.
When I’m at work at the newspaper, I tend to receive more constructive comments from my male coworkers. When I talk to women, I find that a very small portion of them are willing to talk about caricature. Men are generally more drawn to caricature than women.
It’s also important to consider that caricature is a bold art form. The artist must take into consideration their audience’s reactions, which are at times hurtful.
Caricature is always inspired by social issues. What topics do you delve into through your drawings?
Most of what I draw for Al Rai is political, using material from Kuwait and the Arab World. Every day, we live a new political story that the Kuwaiti public discusses, so I express this through my drawings. I also draw caricatures about social issues to a lesser extent.
In a previous interview, you expressed gratitude to non-Kuwaitis for support of caricature. Since then, has there been greater appreciation for caricature in Kuwaiti society, which has had a long relationship with satire?
When I first started, many people strongly opposed me. I don’t blame them. Our society is conservative and cannot accept a woman putting forward daring ideas through caricature. At the end of the day, I am an artist, and an artist must learn to live in their society.
Some of my earliest supporters were non-Kuwaitis. They included Bahrainis, Egyptians, and Arabs from the Levant. I even joined a group for Arab female caricaturists early on.
I’ll never forget the first person who asked for my autograph, a young Kuwaiti girl. She asked me to draw something for her. This was at an exhibition where I found little support. When I gave her an autograph, she said she would wait for me to become very famous in Kuwait.
I have endured a lot of criticism, abuse, and slander due to my work. The surprise I was not anticipating was the call from Al Rai offering me a job at the newspaper. Of course, I accepted without hesitation. Al Rai provided me with a chance to prove to our community that a woman can reach anything, even becoming a caricature artist.
As I’ve become more well-known, Kuwaiti society’s perception of me has changed. Thankfully, most people are supportive of my work. I will never forget the value of each person’s support, especially children.
Has social media helped to increase interest in caricature?
Undoubtedly, yes. Most television, radio, and press invitations I receive come through through social media. Social media has made me familiar to people. It makes it easier to know about someone without approaching them. I love communicating with people and answering their questions. They’re a part of my success, so I don’t like to ignore them (and perhaps this differentiates me from other social media celebrities in Kuwait). Social media was and still is a big driver of my success.
What would you like to say to women who face a current of criticism from those clinging to tradition, which can suppress creativity?
I used to feel somewhat jealous of men. I thought that they alone could reach what they aspired to because of society’s support for them. Later, I discovered that the difficulties and social barriers that are put in front of women are the reason for their success and innovation.
Success is not sweet unless it is earned with hard work. If you are convinced that what you’re doing does not hurt you, your home, or your society, then I advise you not to stop and to continue ahead with proud steps.
Most importantly, you should not listen to negative and hurtful comments. Do not allow room for jealousy, as jealousy delays action and blocks creativity. Lastly, I pray to see my Kuwaiti and Arab sisters in the highest positions, as their success is mine.