Listen: Visualizing a feeling

“Asserting your own identity through your work and telling your own stories is the most important thing you can do for yourself,” graphic novelist and video game designer Iasmin Omar Ata tells The Electronic Intifada Podcast’s contributor, Marguerite Dabaie, in a conversation about art, identity, politics and expression.

The struggle for recognition is familiar to any Palestinian. The insistence that Palestinians simply exist permeates a great deal of Palestinian cultural production, Dabaie writes in a review of Ata’s new book, Mis(h)adra.

The book both asserts the existence of and is a testament to the struggles of another underrepresented and misrepresented group: people with disabilities, Dabaie adds.

Ata’s protagonist in Mis(h)adra, Isaac, is a college student in New York City trying to manage epilepsy and the accompanying misunderstandings of the condition by friends, family members and physicians.

In the Podcast interview, Ata explains how their own experiences with epilepsy influenced the book.

Ata describes coming close to getting hit by a bus trying to navigate their way through Manhattan during an episode of Complex Partial Status Epilepticus, a nonconvulsive form of a seizure that puts one into a dreamlike state.

After that brush with death, Ata tells Dabaie that “I think people need to know about this.”

“That one day was the day where I was like, ‘this is what I’m going to do.’ And that’s when I decided to make sort of a – I wouldn’t say non-traditional, but more of an amorphous story structure where it’s a story that is following a bunch of different events about things that happened to me,” Ata adds.

While Ata wanted to evoke an Arab sense in the work, it was meant to be subtle, Dabaie writes.

“The focus of the story is not the fact that [Isaac is] partially Palestinian or partially Arab,” Ata says.

“I think in a lot of works, there tends to be a push for it to be about that and I’m like, no, this character is just this person with this background going through a thing.”

Ata has more directly integrated their Palestinian identity into other work, Dabaie explains, the most recent of which is a video game and comic, both titled Being.

Listen to the interview with Iasmin Omar Ata via the media player above.

Music and production assistance by Sharif Zakout

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).