Molly Crabapple in conversation with William Sieghart
“There’s always been a part of me that has wanted to draw the hidden things in the world”, shared artist, writer and journalist Molly Crabapple in a candid conversation with publisher and chairman of Somerset House Trust William Sieghart,about her new book Brothers Of The Gun.The book was co-authored with Syrian war journalist Marwan Hisham.Crabapple’s art is reflective of a symbolic fascination with lines; her work epitomizes both a finer containment and a necessary transgression. Even as she called herself a “New Yorker in my bones”, her awareness of the intersections of identity and her sensitivity as a journalist has ensured that her work has a far-reaching global impact.
“I think I had a very lucky combination of parents”, she remarked, daughter of an illustrator mother and a Marxist father, “So many people think that you can’t make a living out of art, but my mother taught me that being an artist is a totally reasonable, prosaic and adult aspiration.” Growing up in a home where questioning authority was not only acceptable but also encouraged, facilitated her engagement with art. Art, she believes, needs continuous doing, “I don’t have a college degree, let alone one from a nice school. But I drew every single day, every single moment. I’d just plunk down on the corner of the street and draw. I just met so many random people because I had my sketchpad.”
Crabapple’s story, as Sieghartaffirmed, has many sub-narratives but is at the heart of it one of “incredible courage”. She decided to bust what she calls “the myth of danger”, a patriarchal construct that teaches women to be afraid all the time, by traveling solo at a very young age. Her wide range of coverage includes art and writing on the Lebanese snipers, labor camps in Abu Dhabi, Guantanamo Bay, Syrian rebels, the refugee crisis in Greece, and the ravages of hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Commenting on her personal experience of the Syrian war, she said,“The first time you get involvement in the political movement, it is like a kind of romance.” The international solidarity is both reassuring and overwhelming.
Brothers of The Gun is a memoir of the Syrian war. Crabapple’s first interaction with Hisham was a string of Direct Messages on Twitter after ISIS’ occupation of the Syrian city of Raqqa. The Syrian war journalist Hisham was tweeting about Raqqa from inside of, whichCrabapple called “the immense favour of allowing me to see through his eyes”. She met Hisham in Istanbul: “He snuck across the border and we spent the next two and a half years writing the book.” She felt like Hisham and her “just clicked”, adding that “Everything in the book was what he would write or I would write, and we would each add to each other’s writing.” The book features 82 illustrations by her, and not all of them are referenced from photographs. For some, she’d interview Hisham, emphasizing the importance of detail during these conversations. This process of interviewing, Hisham said, was how Crabapple would “download his memories”.
A semifinalist for the 2018 National Book Award, Brother of The Gun has been very well-received internationally, but Crabapple shared how Hisham can’t travel for the book tour because of the restrictions that have been placed on Syrian people, “Syrian refugees are in a very difficult situation in Istanbul.” They have, however, done an event in Istanbul with a Turkish art magazine. The point is to persist. “If you don’t go away, you win. If you stay, you win. If you don’t let the bastards grind you down, you win.”