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Moroccan illustrator using comics for #MeToo campaign

Young Moroccan cartoonist Zainab Fasiki draws on a whiteboard in a Casablanca studio where she is holding a workshop that mixes art with a homegrown illustrated #MeToo campaign.

Zainab Fasiki, a Moroccan cartoonist and activist for women's rights, poses with her   latest book entitled 'Hshouma' in the western Moroccan coastal city of Casabalanca, on March 17, 2021. - Around a dozen students and professionals have gathered for an art workshop with Fasiki, a 26-year-old pioneer in comics and illustration in the North African country, in response to a web series titled #TaAnaMeToo -- "Ta ana" means "Me Too" in Moroccan Arabic dialect -- that depicts women's real-life ordeals. Fadel Senna / AFP
"We are here to change this rape culture, which says the victim deserves what they get while the criminal is innocent," says Fasiki, 26, her eyes flashing with indignation.

A dozen students and professionals have joined forces with Fasiki, a pioneer in comics and illustration in Morocco, in response to a web series titled #TaAnaMeToo that depicts women's real-life ordeals.

As part of the series -- "Ta ana" means "Me Too" in Moroccan Arabic dialect -- she illustrated the harrowing testimony of a 22-year-old woman who for years was raped by her brother, to the indifference of her parents.

Unlike in the broader #MeToo movement, the Moroccan women who have agreed to share their stories for the campaign have preferred to remain anonymous.

Series producer Youssef Ziraoui says rape victims in Morocco not only have to deal with a sense of "shame" and the risk of being cast out by their families, but can face charges for sex before marriage under Moroccan law if they go to the police.

The participants in the Casablanca workshop are looking for creative comebacks to some of the toxic reactions the campaign has elicited.

"Choose a negative comment and respond to it," Fasiki says, as the group gets to work on tablets or with paper and pencil.

Fasiki, who calls herself an "artivist" (an artist and activist), says art is "a major instrument of change".

"Images have power, particularly on social media."

'Revolution, resistance'

The illustrator, her dark hair cropped in a short bob, says she became a feminist at age 14, when she began to feel that often "being a woman is a sin" in the North African country.

"There is a culture where men correct women, keep an eye on them -- it's a patriarchal system," she says. "Men treat us as if we weren't humans who are responsible for our choices."

She is pushing through her illustrations for "changes to laws written by men, for men, to control women's bodies", she adds.

The self-taught Fasiki says her artistic training involved reading comics as a child, drawing in her bedroom as an adolescent, and "meeting authors at comics festivals" when she was old enough to travel.

Fasiki became known on social media for her nude self-portraits and for illustrations showing "the female body as it is, without taboos".

Her book "Hshouma" (modesty) -- a term she says covers "the culture of shame" around women's bodies in Morocco -- took her to a wider audience, in a country where sex education is also taboo.

"Some feminists think that drawing the naked female form doesn't serve the cause," she says.

"I think it's a revolution -- a form of resistance in the face of a patriarchy-based history."

Stifling talent

Fasiki says she was unable to find a local publisher for "Hshouma", and the book's first edition was instead published in Paris in 2019.

Florent Massot, her French publisher, told AFP the book had had "good sales" in Morocco.

"Zainab is very courageous," he said. "She is always very positive even though she gets insulted a lot on social media."

Fasiki is preparing for an exhibition at a contemporary art museum in Tetouan, and will also be teaching at a fine arts school in the northern Moroccan city.

She says she is looking forward to countering "artists who preach against artistic nudity", and wants to "develop the female presence in art".

First and foremost, that requires helping girls "escape the control of their family", says Fasiki, adding that she was influenced by French feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir and her seminal work "The Second Sex".

"When I started to publish (my work) on social media, my family told me, 'either you stop or we don't consider you a member of the family anymore'," she says.

But she was undeterred.

"This type of control over children, who are doing nothing wrong apart from living their passion, has destroyed thousands of talents," she says.

Topics: Zainab Fasiki , #MeToo , Hshouma , Youssef Ziraoui
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