Charlotte cartoonist from Iraq draws her art with a message
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.
âTogether we can contain the coronavirus,â the caption reads. âHealth 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.
âHere I have freedom of expression. I can talk about things and I’m not afraid of being killed for my thoughts, âshe 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.”
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.
âMy family made a rule: I had to use one paper per day,â Kheldoon said. âSo 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. âShe drew amazingly. She taught me a lot of the basics – how to draw, how to use colors, how to match them, âKheldoon 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. âGoing to art school (puts) a stigma on you,â 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.
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 rejectedâ¦ so I couldn’t have the chance to see her before that.”
Kheldoon also had to adapt to the American accent. âI had a hard time getting used to the accent. We studied British English.
Then there was the stigma of how some Americans viewed Iraqis.
âTo start from scratch in a different culture is a big step,â she said. âEspecially 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. âAll of these causes call to me,â 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.
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.”
More artistic coverage
Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for the free âInside Charlotte Artsâ newsletter at charlotteobserver.com/newsletters. You can also join our Facebook group, âInside Charlotte Artsâ, at facebook.com/groups/insidecharlottearts.