by Abaki Beck
Leila Abdelrazaq, our Feminist Hero Friday this week, is a Palestinian American artist and activist from Chicago. Abdelrazaq’s work is intersectional and political, exploring themes of memory, borders, diaspora, refugees, and history. She earned a BFA in Theater Arts and a BA in Arabic Studies from DePaul University in 2015. Her debut graphic novel, Baddawi, about her father’s childhood as a Palestinian refugee, was short-listed for the Palestinian Book Award.
She is a founder of Bigmouth Press and Comix, which focuses on uplifting the work of women and non-binary folks in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. The work on this website, blog, and distro focuses on Orientalism, imperialism, Anti-Zionism, identity, sexuality, and more, and features the work of women living in those areas and of the diaspora. She is also a member of the For the People Artist Collective, a group of activist/artists of color based in Chicago.
She has created beautiful, graphic zines, mini-comics, posters and educational pamphlets on these themes and subjects like Black Power, #NoDAPL, the BDS movement, and undocumented rights. In 2015, she published her first graphic novel titled Baddawi, which explores her father’s childhood as a Palestinian refugee, growing up in refugee camps in Lebanon in the 1960s and 70s. The L.A. Review of Books notes of Baddawi:
“Baddawi holds Ahmad’s story tightly and in doing so holds the stories of others like him. Consequently his story becomes a tatreez in itself, an intricate and personalized pattern of home and memory in the face of displacement and forgetting: a textured document of survival.”
Abdelrazaq also created a zine titled “BDS: What it is, why it matters” (which you can download for free here!) to educate students and college campuses on the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement. BDS was started in 2005 as a resistance tactic to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and systemic violence against Palestinian people. It was inspired by the South African boycott and divestment movements that eventually helped to end apartheid. The BDS movement involves various campaigns, including a consumer boycott of companies that profit from Israeli violence and an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions that are complicit in their states violence.
Another series we will highlight was the posters and designs she created for #Arabs4BlackPower. In this series, she highlights the tangible connections between oppression against Palestinians and Black Americans and their struggles for justice. She printed her graphics both in English and Arabic, and sold t-shirts benefiting black-led grassroots organizations with text reading “Arabs for Black Power” and “Palestinians for Black Power.”
Art is always necessary for social change. It tells stories, educates, makes us feel, and makes us think. Abdelrazaq’s art is profound to me for two reasons: it is unapologetically intersectional, recognizing our linked oppressions and resistances; and it is directly tied to community empowerment and advocacy. Through creating posters, pamphlets, and zines, she is able to creatively educate on and engage with issues that may otherwise be inaccessible to some people. This week, we celebrate Leila Abdelrazaq for her penchant for beautiful storytelling and art that is at once political and provocative, yet deeply entrenched in a love of community and marginalized peoples.