Charlotte cartoonist from Iraq draws her art with a message

Courtesy of Halah Kheldoon

In a recent cartoon, a scaly, lizard-like beast fights against a healthcare worker. Viral spikes rise from the enemy’s head, but the health worker, who holds a vaccination syringe in his hand, appears determined to win the fight.

“Together we can contain the coronavirus,” the caption reads. “Health workers are at the center of this fight, taking personal risks to protect us. “

the drawing, drawn for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, is one of the many recent drawings by Charlotte artist Halah Kheldoon. She is originally from Iraq and helps spread the message of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination in her home country.

Kheldoon, 35, says hellasketchz to his more than 53,000 followers on Instagram, moved to Charlotte from Baghdad in 2016 to join his family. They had moved to the United States in 2014.

“Here I have freedom of expression. I can talk about things and I’m not afraid of being killed for my thoughts, ”she said. “Maybe if I was in a different place (without so much freedom of speech) I could be killed or injured because I promoted or educated (about) certain causes.”

Kheldoon photo.jpg
Iraqi artist Charlotte Halah Khelldoon’s family members are now U.S. citizens, and Kheldoon is in the process of completing her own citizenship application. Courtesy of Halah Khelldoon

Live in fear

Kheldoon grew up in Baghdad in the 1990s, his country on the brink of war with the United States. “You just do your routine, but you think you’re gonna be next.”

It was a life of fear and scarcity, perhaps most strikingly for the budding artist, a lack of stationary books and coloring books.

“My family made a rule: I had to use one paper per day,” Kheldoon said. “So when I was a kid it was a struggle. I love to draw, so one piece of paper wouldn’t do.

His talent comes to him from his mother. “She drew amazingly. She taught me a lot of the basics – how to draw, how to use colors, how to match them, ”Kheldoon said. “I still use these lessons.”

But given the cultural stigma of artists as nightlife revelers in Iraq, she took the college route and stopped drawing. “Going to art school (puts) a stigma on you,” Kheldoon said. “So I couldn’t finish studying art there, and I kept it as a talent and that’s it.”

In 2008, Kheldoon obtained a bachelor’s degree in statistics from the College of Administration and Economics, University of Baghdad.

Halah Kheldoon says his caricature here portrays Iraqi power against the militias. The fist is wrapped in the Iraqi flag. But instead of the flag having its traditional words “Allah akbar”, “God is the greatest”, Kheldoon simply has the name “Iraq” in Arabic. Courtesy of Halah Kheldoon

In 2014, his father, mother and younger brother emigrated to the United States. As she was 21, she was no longer considered immediate family and had to wait for her own visa.

In 2016, Kheldoon arrived in the United States, but the transition came with its own pain.

The year before she obtained her visa to join her family, her mother died of breast cancer. “I couldn’t catch her until I was rejected… so I couldn’t have the chance to see her before that.”

Kheldoon also had to adapt to the American accent. “I had a hard time getting used to the accent. We studied British English.

Then there was the stigma of how some Americans viewed Iraqis.

“To start from scratch in a different culture is a big step,” she said. “Especially when you come from the Middle East and have this stigma (that) you are a terrorist. I can’t change this, but what can I do? I’m just a normal human.

” A way of expression “

When Kheldoon arrived in the United States, a friend suggested that he start making art again. “It’s a means of expression, as I adjust to my new place,” she said.

But more than for her own pleasure, she also gives meaning to her art, including speaking out on behalf of abused women, supporting refugees or fighting against child abuse. “All of these causes call to me,” she said.

Kheldoon has also worked with the World Health Organization and is currently illustrating a professional development educational text for Iraqi teachers with UNESCO.

Halah Kheldoon produced a number of cartoons in November for a United Nations Assistance Missions to Iraq / World Health Organization campaign to raise awareness about the COVID vaccine. Courtesy of Halah Khelldoon

In Charlotte, she worked with the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency, selling her artwork to raise funds to support refugee resettlement.

Kheldoon shares his sketches on social media and sells digital artwork on T-shirts, mugs, pillows, bags and other accessories through a online shop.

While considering going to art school, she continues to create her art from her home near the US National Whitewater Center.

Her family members are now U.S. citizens, and Kheldoon is completing her own citizenship application.

She always thinks about her homeland, and one of the things she missed the most was food. So Kheldoon took it upon herself to remedy that, making her own taste of the house, adding, “Thank goodness I learned to cook.”

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