Molly Crabapple in conversation with William Dalrymple

‘My father always told me to question authority and be interesting,’ states artist and author Molly Crabapple during her conversation with William Dalrymple at ZEE JLF at Boulder, Colorado.

‘Interesting’ would be an understated adjective to describe the experiences Crabapple has lived and depicted through her drawings and journalistic pursuits, from the New York burlesque scene to atrocities at Guantanamo Bay, to her latest exploration of the Syrian war as told through the eyes of refugee, Marwan Hisham.

With a casual interview style, Dalrymple structured a chronological backdrop for Crabapple to describe her journey as an artist and writer.

Her start was with Vice magazine and focused on New York and London nightclubs filled with burlesque dancers and exploited sex trade workers. While she wrote several articles, Crabapple described the murals painted by her on the walls of the nightclub Box as most able to withstand the test of time. She attributed this to her illustration of the hedge-fund ‘bros’ as pigs snorting cocaine!

But the dark underbelly of the club scene in the 2000s was nothing more than a starting point for a broad range of more serious journalism that covered atrocities, torture and the naïve misunderstanding of the realities of the Middle East. Crabapple has been relentless in illustrating the resilience of Muslims as they faced unimaginable violence in the years since 9/11.

Her first foray into geo-political journalism was shortly after being arrested in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement. Assigned by CNN to cover Guantanamo Bay, she contrasted the American ‘honour-bound to defend freedom’ rhetoric against the reality that of the over 800 Muslims detained and interrogated, only 7 have been convicted.

Around 2014, she was writing about Gaza for Vanity Fair. During this time, Crabapple struck up a virtual collaboration with a photographer and literary intellectual, Marwan Hisham. As the relationship budded into formal meetings in Istanbul, the two became writing companions by telling the stories of life in occupied Syria.

She describes Hisham as one of the bravest men she has ever met. His photos, diaries and writings while living in his hometown of Raqqa, now almost completely destroyed by bombings and turmoil, became the canvas for Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War, which has recently been longlisted for the National Book Award.

Dalrymple deftly stated at the onset of the interview, “Most of us are given one gift; Molly Crabapple has two – artist and author.” As she pleasantly greeted attendees of ZEE JLF at Boulder following her session, signing copies of her new book, you could see in her eyes a burning passion for truth through art without compromise, and a relentless pursuit to be interesting.