Monday, 8 October 2018

Future Lost

Pedro X. Molina, October 4, 2018.
"Faber López was a police officer, who at some point during the protests againt the
Ortegan government decided enough was enough and handed in his resignation.
He was forced into the street, where he was killed on July 8. He was killed
by the police, according to his mother".

@Inktober is now in its ninth year dedicating one month to the basic act of drawing. Free of the demands from editors and other customers, this is an occasion created to let the pen run free. It is a celebration of the infinite possibilities of hand and pen. What is otherwise toned down, can now twirl and twist with just the one requirement that each day during October should produce its own drawing.

Pedro X. Molina, October 6, 2018.
"Rayneia Lima was a Brazilian medical student in Nicaragua. She was killed by
paramilitaries when she was driving home after finishing her shift at a local hospital.
She was 31".

While Inktober is toning down the content for the form, Pedro X. Molina is dedicating the daily deadline to a subject that has been drowned in all that has taken place in Nicaragua this spring and summer. He declares the cartoon an instrument and his present task is an extensive one morally and workwise to get every detail right. Pedro X. Molina is dedicating each day to a Nicaraguan, who has lost her or his life by hands of the Ortega's paramilitary groups. More often than not a young person, now given a face and their personal data for their moment of recognition.

The young could in terms of dates already belong to a past, yet what they stood for is as important and unresolved as ever, and so their loss is given a presence on why they were denied a future.

Pedro X. Molina, October 7, 2018.
"Matt Romero, a high school student was participating in a march for the freedom of political
prisoners on September 23, where he was killed. He was 16".

They are each looking directly at us with welcoming generosity. They are not confronting us. Theirs are the open faces of the young in contrast to the disguised militants, who took their lives. These are the ones, who have been called derogatory names by Rosario Murillo. Now we see the true light of their faces. They are the future lost.

Each is presented with a piece of characteristics or a symbol on the human that were here mere moments ago. The soft apparel of the former uniformed policeman, for one. Most notable are the recurring blue and white stripes. They are Nicaragua.

Pedro X. Molina's #inktober2018 can be followed at his Instagram account @pxmolina.

Pedro X. Molina, October 5, 2018.
"Erick Cubillo was a student at Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria.
In killing him, his two-year old daughter was left without her father".

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Pedro X. Molina and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Portrait Test

What do you want people to say when they point to your oil painting?

Khalid Albaih, MBS and the "Media", March 8, 2018.
Mohammed bin Salman boosting his image as a reformer
while jailing dissent.
100 years, 200 years, 300 years from now, what are the deeds that stand out, when all the noise has evaporated? When you are no longer there to butter up the press so that they fall for your sweet-talking about being moderate and forward thinking?

The exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Dr. Khashoggi has been a tireless and important voice on what is going on behind the Saudi cover of moderation, while authoritarianism is being strengthened.

Rumors speak of his being killed within the consulate. We only have rumors, but we know of their being only too possible.

The pattern is well established. The women's rights bloggers, Nouf Abdulaziz and Eman al-Nafjan, are both under arrest. In Yemen millions, many of which are infants, are facing starvation due to the Saudi-led coalition.

Then let the cartoonists carry the true painting from the attic.

Cartoonists believe in disclosure while everyone is still around and so they carry Dorian Gray's portrait from the attic of Oscar Wilde's novel, in this case the true likeness of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as drawn by Khalid Albaih. Eating children is one of the oldest tropes of evil. In this case, the situation is an actual one.

The Crown Prince is the acting body in seeing to the starving taking place. He is feasting on the profits from letting infants in the millions die from starvation.

Khalid Albaih, Yemeni Meal, September 25, 2018.

Dorian Gray killed the artist of his oil painting to keep his soul a secret. In September the Saudi authorities declared a ban on online satire for its "disruption" of "public order".

Well, this is not satire. This is the Saudi leader grown into his own cartoon for what he is: the opposer of civil rights. His answer to non-violent speaking of rights is one of violence.

You shall indeed be your own portrait of what you do. 

Khalid Albaih, OBEY, November 7, 2017.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Khalid Albaih and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Do We Need Stereotypes?

Christoph Niemann with his example on how to
minimize the population of baby pandas.
Screenshot from his TEDtalk, August 2018.
"Every time a drawing like this is published, a baby panda will die", Christoph Niemann warned in his most recent TED Talk last month.

The stacking of pictorial elements such as the suit, the ladder and the dollar sign into an "And then... and then... and then...". All telling and no showing. It might as well have been written. There is a reason, why it is a safe blanket for editors, as Niemann points out, in that no one will notice the presence of the cartoon.

Niemann took a stand against what I call lazy cartooning and it is an important one, since this is what gives cartooning a bad name. I wish to take his words one step further and address the lazy way we talk about cartooning, i.e. the tired litany that cartooning runs on stereotypes.

When we speak of premises for composing a cartoon, we do not speak of a repertoire or even just motif the way we classify the workings of other art forms. Instead, we speak of stereotypes, which in its meaning comprises the form as well as its content. A stale idea from beginning to end from which arises nothing but a travesty: a mockery of all that is artistic creation and by thus intelligent life.

The life of lazy argumentation is made all the easier from the fact that cartooning uses figuration. Such as fish, bears and the Statue of Liberty. Well then, the line of argumentation seems to take, every time there is a bear, that is... seen before... But cartooning is not primarily about the seen before.

Cartooning is what it brings to the conversation with us, its beholders.

Riber Hansson, 2007.

The danger of even looking this bear into his eyes.

Before us - right above and below - are two of the most drawn symbols on power and freedom respectively. They come from each from their corner of the world and they each specify how their respective nations define themselves or are defined.

Let us speak of Ur-Stories.

Art forms have their Ur-Stories onto which every new artwork adds another layer. The two symbols before us are effective in that the one above contain a long story of killing fields, defeating both Napoleon and Hitler, because the latter ignored the lesson Napoleon was given. There is a myth to that power of something impossible to fully grasp however much we try.

Below is the Roman goddess Libertas in her best-known recent configuration as the giant in bronze correlating to the giant idea of freedom. Goddesses and what they personify along with the powerful animals are imagery on the grandest scale from the equally grand compositions of history painting once commissioned for palaces and later on for town halls and parliaments.

Here someone will immediately object that regal history painting is no longer relevant and there is a reason why. However, there will always be ample reason for the artist taking on history, as Aristotle confirmed. The artist creates something that we can encompass with our eyes. A dramatic mise en scène that encompasses all that has taken place and what is likely to happen from here on.

Aristotle gives us the fine-tuning explanation on what the cartoonist does when using figuration. The solidity before our eyes is based in abstraction. The artist selects the traits of our day and age and deducts from there what will reasonably take place. In the dramatic narrative that ensues, we see the characters how they are likely to speak or act.

We recognize the characters. We recognize their arguments. We recognize it all because this is our world; an observation that was true, when Aristotle wrote it just as it is today. We are part of what is taking place before us and we see it all come alive.

Portraiture is a key feature to the drama. In fact, a portrait can be so deftly composed that it encompasses it all. Riber Hansson has drawn a specific danger. The one that seeks to stifle truth and democracy alike. Putin is replacing the many voices of democracy to the one before us. His narrative only. He his challenging us, securing our gaze to let us know just how dangerous his game is. His file is just for show. He is his own weapon and his portraitist has undressed him to his fur.

There is a narrative to win back from the narrative of Putin and his lackeys around the world, one of which is orange. Siri Dokken has dissolved the Drumpf into orange gasses interspersed with willowy yellow. This is a composition on a juxtaposition that is no longer there. The bronze has been eaten from within and is now collapsing to one side, while the gasses are unraveling to the other. The only vertical line left is the IV stand. Liberty is nothing but a skull whose skin has dragged the ear down to one side. That is a badass detail of the most painful nature.

The eyes of the bronze has slit open to the despair beyond all despair.

It is not healthy looking into her eyes, just as it is not healthy looking into Putin's, but "We need to be involved in the argument if we are to have any chance of winning it", as Salman Rushdie wrote in the The New Yorker in May on the anti-truth times in which we live.

Our cartoonists have given us the punch in the stomach to do so.

Siri Dokken, August 23, 2018.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Siri Dokken and Riber Hansson and must not be reproduced without their permission.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Those Diabolical Caricatures

In this case not the ones on paper or the screen. The protesters against the regime in Nicaragua are caricatures of human life, according to Rosario Murillo, Vice-President and thus co-aggressor against those same protesters.

Between 322 and 481 are dead. Those numbers are already a week old. Add to this the thousands of wounded, not to mention the detained being tortured.

So the physical violence is backed by her verbal violence useful for creating a case for striking back at the protesters. They have been called every catchphrase within the domain of evildoers and nothings, such as vampires and menials. She then flung out cat skinners, as in persons of no significance socially and economically, having to eat cats to stay alive.

Pedro X. Molina drew her as a skinned cat:

Pedro X. Molina, "Skinned Cats!" September 11, 2018.

There may or may not have been a correlation, but the timeline makes it likely that it was in direct response to the cartoon above that she declared the population for caricatures.

If so, she was revealing herself that she had seen the cartoon above and that it hurt. It struck right as it was intended.

Pedro X. Molina, The Madness of the Empress, September 17, 2018.
"Caricature! You are all a caricature!!"
Her response was to forget her claim of being a poet and just throw caricature back out there in the No you are more! when children lack words.

Again she was drawn. This time she was a classical caricature, where the first one was an allegory on the political situation.

Each time in a 1:1 exposure to the beholder, facing us directly. Pedro X. Molina is working in a literal sense, giving her the shape and form of her own words.

This is how the noise screen of the responsible looks in visual form.

To paraphrase Molina, who said it so precisely himself: a caricature exaggerates a reality to make it more obvious. In the case of the protesters, it is their loyalty to their country and on the side of the oppressors their lunacy.

He exaggerated and he was SEEN.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Pedro X. Molina and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Rebels Needed

Serena Williams lost the finale of the US Open to Naomi Osaka a week ago. Since then we have had a number of cartoons showing her throwing a tantrum with the Mark Knight-one getting most of the attention.

We know the drill. It gets the pink skinned righters out of the woodwork shouting WHAT I AM DRAWING IS MY RIIIIIIIGHT!!!!!

It is.

Having the right to is not synonymous with cartooning worth its name, nor should it be for that matter. Let us instead turn to the matter of drawing the tantrum in that it involved three thick prejudices:

1. Women are hysterical
2. Women are hysterical and consequently not professional
3. African-American women are hysterical and consequently not professional

Cintia Bolio, Alice Rebelling, 2016.
Thick prejudice involves no thinking. The cartoonist just needs to scratch himself and they crawl out. Did he even draw her before and if not, did he wait until she fit into his image of the world? What was it to the story that made it worth drawing in the first place? Was this the vital angle to the story?

The real question in this situation was: Why was it painful to see the reaction of Serena Williams on the day?

It was her words drawing in implications, where they had no being.

Serena Williams happens to have an instrument in both areas of her life's work with the same outline. She has been a rebel on behalf of women and girls in sport as in life proving that change is possible. She has been breaking new ground, holding it high while batting right back at those opposing her work. She is inspiration and direct action in one for the new generations.

She will continue to be important with so much more to do and we know she will.

Khalid Albaih placed a cartoon on the social media intended for an upcoming publication in which she is at her highest. Her muscle tone is catching the highlight.

The difference between the actual situation and the cartoon caught that exact pain of the day.

That is drawing at her level.

She has been undaunted. She is a rebel daring to think anew, just as Alice in Wonderland steps right into that strange structure that is life to question every corner of it.

Khalid Wad Albai, September 11, 2018.

Representation is important, as Khalid affirmed.

Representation for the young to take inspiration from just as it is important in cartooning. What do you want from making your cartoon?

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Cintia Bolio and Khalid Albaih and must not be reproduced without their permission.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

What Can I Do?

- What can I do to make this world a better place? What can we do to help?

Three students came up to Khalid Albaih after his artist talk at his exhibition at Kulturværftet in Helsingør.

The day after Khalid was speaking at RUC, Roskilde University, upon which he received a message from one of the students naming it an "eye opening talk":

"It really touched me. It has certainly inspired me to try and make a difference in the world for people who have it much harder than myself, in instances that you demonstrated today"

And the message went on to specify:

"I must admit that I am guilty of dehumanising the experience of refugees, not consciously, but just because of how it is portrayed in the media like you said today. That is definitely something that I am going to actively change". 

This is it, such is the significance of cartooning at its best.

When at its best, it has means of changing our perception of the world and doing so to one person at a time. Cartooning at its best does the opposite of seducing and silencing the masses. Each of the beholders above was engaged and inspired to act.

Through the way they described their reaction, we learn how the cartoons by Khalid made a difference: Complex matters too difficult to take in, had been transformed into a graspable cluster before them of the what, how and why of an issue. They had gained information, which they described as gaining lucidity.

In art history we discuss seeing-in and seeing-as (as in recognizing or imagining something already known). This is seeing-through. Seeing through not in the sense of the cartoon having no value of its own, but in its creating translucency into something too massive or scary/sad to focus on. It is the meeting-point for a complex matter to be reflected upon and from which can emanate action.

 That is the recipe for change and the medium was the cartoon.

Khalid Albaih, The Perfect Arab Citizen, April 5, 2011.

And Khalid's answer to the young?

- Be present in your life. Do what you can in what is right before you.

As his equally fearless colleague Doaa Eladl answered at a conference earlier this year: You focus on the elephant. That is an excuse for doing nothing. Focus on each step at a time.

Monday, 9 July 2018

The Unfakable

Khalid Albaih at the graffiti wall of the exhibition, the cartoons dirtied up
as they would be outside. With Jens Nüchel Petersen, July 5, 2018.
Photo: Niels Larsen.

"We Were Perfect", view from the exhibition at
the Library at Kulturværftet in Elsinore.
Photo: LCL.
Even before we opened Khalid Albaih's exhibition We Were Perfect at the Library at Kulturværftet in Elsinore (Helsingør), the exhibition had its first visitor.

A young refugee from the Syrian regime, his wide-eyed reaction, when being told that the artist was present before him was the best moment of the evening. His eyes told the story of the presence of Khalid's work too since 2011.

Running through one room of the exhibition is a "graffiti wall" a giant paper wall with dirtied up prints as they would have been seen stenciled on walls in Tahrir Square, Cairo and in Beirut. They were likewise brought on to the streets when demonstrating against regimes, or against the handling of refugees in Australia, and first and foremost they have gone viral on smart-screens in the Arab world as in the West.

The original of the cartoon is at any given instance the publicized one. In this case its publication took place in all of its formats, size and materials. We may speak of a first apparition on the screens, but the constitutive properties are not ephemeral, nor are they transitory. On the contrary, in each of their configurations, his works are fully there as he intended.

"We Were Perfect", view from the exhibition at the Library at Kulturværftet
in Elsinore. Photo: LCL.

"We Were Perfect", view from the exhibition at
the Library at Kulturværftet in Elsinore.
Photo: LCL.
The word is authoritative.

The artworks of Khalid are as clear-cut in form as they are in meaning. A luminous background onto which is a clear-cut graphic element. Simple, yet detailed. They address the specific in laying out a situation, while insisting on the intellectual curiosity of their beholders to think for themselves in everything they hear and do.
"We Were Perfect", view from the exhibition at
the Library at Kulturværftet in Elsinore.
Photo: LCL.

Khalid's objective was understood given it was taken to the streets in the call for change from the noise of despots doing their damnedest to undermine every instance of calm to think.

"Fake" has been a despotic buzzword these years in their adoption of what Orwell termed doublethink, to reach the point were nothing is - well, where nothingness reigns. Contrary to this we have the unfakable of the realm of art, as termed by the philosopher of aesthetics, Nelson Goodman.

Goodman would not have approved of the authoritative manifold of the unique, but then he wrote before there was such a thing as an image being printed on equally excellent appliances across the globe.

Our first visitor came back moments later with his best friend, who originates from Ethiopia. Two friends from two continents accentuating a body of work, which in turn is the embodiment of the poet Maya Angelou:

I go forth alone, and stand as ten thousand.

The local graffiti wall by the library at Kulturværftet,
so of course there is an invitation to find inspiration inside.
Photo: LCL.

The Exhibition We Were Perfect at the Library of Kulturværftet, Elsinore/Helsingør. It opened last Thursday and runs until September 27, 2018.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Monument of Shame

Bonil, Trees of Death, by Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega,
July 4, 2018.

It is a monument of the atrocities taking place in Nicaragua. Constructions of steel around Managua, designed by Rosario Murillo, wife of president Daniel Ortega. As trees go, these produce no oxygen and can as such be no symbol of life.

Each of the killed embodies the Nicaraguan flag. The full story is before us.

The cartoon shown is courtesy of Bonil and must not be reproduced without his permission.

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