Joumana Medlej is an amazing Lebanese creative whose work includes the comic series Malaak: Angel of Peace, educational children's books about Lebanon, art tutorials, and calligraphy.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joumana for KULCHA Magazine. The following is a taste of her brilliance.
You used to work under the name of Cedarseed. Tell us about the cultural significance of the name Cedarseed and what shift took place into your rebirth as Majnouna? I love the name by the way :) Explain the meaning and why you feel it describes your current evolution?
I've kept a website since 1997 but in 2001 I rebuilt it from scratch to serve as my portfolio as well as a place to share personal interests. The highlight of it was a large section on Lebanon. This was a time there were hardly any Lebanese online, long before the explosion of Lebanese blogs and websites, so you could say I was taking it upon myself to be a window into the country that would show something different from what one saw on the news. I needed a title for the website that would reflect that but with some subtlety, since it was going to be a "brand name" for my work as well. The cedar tree is THE symbol of Lebanon, it has been since the furthest antiquity we are aware of, and I liked the idea of seeds – humble little things, but they may grow into new trees if they fall on fertile ground. I didn't expect people to start calling me that, but the internet has its own mind!
Ten years later, there are hundreds if not thousands of Lebanese who blog or keep websites about various aspects of Lebanon, so that I've felt I can scale down that part of my online presence, though that was only a factor in changing my website contents, not in the change of name itself. Simply put, 2011 brought such enormous changes that whole chunks of my past started feeling like weights I needed to drop. Your using the term "rebirth" is apt because it feels in some ways as the year of my real birth, and I needed a new name urgently. It's no small thing to drop an identity that has recognition around the world, and I'm still finding out just how famous Cedarseed was. But the choice was between being fettered to that fame or being free to grow, and that's not a hard decision.
Though I love Lebanon as much as ever, I no longer feel the need to be identified as Lebanese, as I did when I chose Cedarseed; I don't identify as anything, really, least of all an old image of myself. That made finding a new name very difficult until a close friend, unaware of my quest, decided to call me Majnouna as that's an anagram of my name (close enough). Well, that sounded predestined, I'm not going to share all the changes I've made in my life but I agree I must be crazy. On the other hand Majnoun is the character in one of our most beautiful love stories, so the name may be a reference to that as well. Who knows?
If she was male, would you have asked me why a male superhero? There is no answer to that, that's how the script came. Malaak is the Lebanese superhero, a young woman sent by the guardians of the land to put an end to an endless, out-of-control war. She discovers that the fighters are actually Jinn and the story takes a turn into a half-mythological half-current reality. The first kernel of the idea, no pun intended, came up in 2000 when I sketched her being born of a cedar cone, but it wasn't until late 2006, after the July war, that the rest of the story arrived and I was ripe to start working on it. Malaak is currently at the 5th volume and will be completed in the 6th. I post a new page on the website every Monday: http://malaakonline.com
You can find out more about Joumana via her website. At the moment, she is working on a very interesting calligraphy project that you can be apart of. Find out more here.