22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Mazen Kerbaj

Portrait Mazen Kerbaj
© Tony Elieh

The improv musician, music producer, and comic artist Mazen Kerbaj was born in 1975 in Beirut, where he grew up during the Lebanese civil war and attended a Franco-Lebanese high school. During the 1990s, when the cultural life in Beirut was reawakened, he played free jazz in the city’s clubs. He founded his own record label and toured Europe, the Middle East, and the USA with musicians including Sharif Sehnaoui, Mats Gustafsson, Guillermo Gregorio, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Martin Küchen, Axel Dörner, John Butcher, Martin Blume, Franz Hautzinger, and others. As a record producer and event organizer, he helped promote the music scene in Lebanon, for instance by co-founding the annual Irtijal Festival and the Al Maslakh Ensemble in 2004; the improv label Al Maslakh and the label Johnny Kafta’s Kids Menu for experimental rock music from Lebanon were also created.
In 1991, Kerbaj began to draw comics, first publishing them in his blog and in various Lebanese magazines including in »L’Orient-Express« by Samir Kassir. In his graphic novels, he mainly talks about life in the war-ridden Middle East. In March 2000, he published his diary in comic book form in »Journal 1999«. Eight more books and short story collections followed. In terms of style, his drawings, which are often complemented by sharp comments, recall early Cubism with their deformed human faces. In 2017, one of his graphic novels was published in English for the first time: »Beirut Won’t Cry«, Kerbaj’s visual diary from the time of the Israeli air attacks on Lebanon in summer 2006, which was originally published online and in 2007 as a book entitled »Beyrouth, juillet–août 2006«. Intense desperation dominates the high-contrast black-and-white drawings, interrupted by short pauses for breath that he spends with his son and ex-wife in the mountains beyond Beirut. »Kerbaj’s drawings evoke the soundscape of a Beirut under siege. The emotional, sometimes satirical drawings take the author’s anxieties, hopes, drunkenness, anger, playfulness, exhaustion, and hyper-caffeination and transmute them into human and humanesque figures« (»bookwitty«).
In 2015, Kerbaj was a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program. His pictures, drawings, and caricatures have been shown in numerous exhibitions, including in Beirut at the Galerie Janine Rubeiz, in Berlin at the Galerie der Neuen Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, and in Ulm, thanks to the temporary exhibition initiative »Café Beirut«. Kerbaj lives in Berlin.