Barrack Rima is an artist, a friend of my parents, and before this interview only a few vague childhood memories for me. He grew up in Tripoli, a city in Lebanon and attended a French-language school during most time of his childhood. At the age of 18 he already knew that he absolutely wanted to become a cartoonist, an art he was fascinated by since he was young. He settled into life in Schaerbeek, a jumbled but at the same time pleasing borough in Brussels, along with his daughter Nina and his girlfriend Deborah.
Barrack is most known as a cartoonist but has also undertaken other artistic projects throughout his career. Several projects were commissioned for newspapers or magazines. In this case, the initiative did not come from him. Others of his work, wich he chose to compose, largely speak about his country of origin and their political and social issues. These cartoons are based on real facts combined with his own view on this situation.
Was it difficult to become who you are today?
At the time a lot of people told me that it wasn’t a serious education and that I should do something else. I headed to Paris and I started to study engineering, qualified as more ‘serious’. After three months I gave up and I decided to pursue comic book studies because my heart was set on this.
It’s difficult but it’s not insurmountable. You have to work hard, be persistent and you can never lose hope. You need to draw every day during hours for years. These days I no longer do it every day because I have other occupations like my family and my house, but in the years before I was drawing on and on.
What perhaps is difficult in my profession is that it takes a long time to be recognized. Before they start calling or emailing you to ask for your work and to pay for it, it is difficult, but as everything can be difficult in another job too, you should take your time and you need to stay motivated during all these years.
In Paris they told me ‘you know, in Brussels they do strip cartoons’ and that’s how I ended up in Belgium. I absolutely didn’t know Belgium at all or what to expect.
Where it finally all began was at the academy of Fine Arts, located in the Rue du Midi, where I started studying illustration and comics.
For several years you have been drawing for the magazine ‘Brussel Deze Week’, how was Beyrouth an inspiration for these weekly cartoons you had to write about Brussels?
I had recently arrived in Brussels and I was wandering somewhere near the European district. At the time, in the 90’s, this neighbourhood looked completely different. The parliament already existed but everything else I saw was flattened. The buildings in this area had been demolished to make room for new and higher constructions. The enormous, desolated area surrounded by the horrid buildings, assembled some years ago, reminded me of the center of Beyrouth. The only contrast between these two places is that there is a conflict in Beyrouth, and the outlook is provoked by a war and here in Brussels they are simply manufacturing new buildings.
What else did you do in relation with Brussels?
Sometimes I assemble work that corresponds to orders. For example: a journalist from the magazine Mic-Mag once asked me to illustrate a report he was doing about the Congolese district of Matongé in Brussels. I accompanied him to this district and I was able to better understand the life of the Congolese community in Brussels before starting this project.
Sometimes I did something other than drawing as well. During the inauguration of the Magritte Museum in Brussels, a friend of mine who is an artist specialized in sketches, asked me to play the role of a living statue in front of the Magritte Museum. The theme was ‘this is not a museum’, in reference to Magritte’s famous painting entitled ‘this is not a pipe’.
What struck me in my meeting with Barrack Rima in Brussels was the importance he attaches to relationships. When you read his comics carefully you find many hidden references to his relationships with his friends and family, both in Tripoli, Beirut and Brussels. For Barrack, there is also a relationship between Lebanon and Belgium, because they are both the product of the mixing of communities. Another remarkable point is Barrack Rima’s willingness to focus on comics. He didn’t really want to tell me about the film studies he also did in Louvain-La-Neuve in the 90s and the film he made in 2006 about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. What matters to him today is his family, his friends, comics, Beirut and Brussels.
‘je vois le monde avec mes yeux et je le dessin’