Sunday, 14 July 2019

We Are All Seen

Khalid Albaih, June 3, 2019.
The June 3 massacre in Khartoum in which the militia raided the demonstrations,
murdering more than 100 people.

Cartoonists go through a coming of age rite of their very own. 

They come of age, when they make the painful realization that humankind will never change. They have been drawing with intensity through a crisis, engaging in every aspect of it, only to come out on the other side realizing that nothing much has changed. 

That first realization brings despair and a feeling of uselessness. Why even bother? 

Last summer the turn came to Khalid Albaih. He had been an activist of the pen from 2009 and went on to visualize the unfolding of the Arab Spring. Tunisia gained a new constitution, but Egypt was left with a new autocrat and Syria... is a slaughterhouse by the hand of their dictator aided by Russia and Iran. Then the Saudi Crown Prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi murdered. The powerful proved as powerful as ever.

Khalid Albaih, Proposal; the army loves the chair, 2011.
A cartoon from the onset of the Arab Spring and as relevant as always.
Dictators clinging to power and the military clinging to them.

At the time of fearing for the fate of Khashoggi, we were preparing the first collection of Khalid's works for the book Khartoon! His many many cartoons weaved themselves into a novel on greed and corruption; the same two ingredients that were rejecting people the most basic rights in life. Seeing the amount of his own work compared to the situation in the world to which was added the fact that it had forced him into exile, Khalid was sighing from the pointlessness of it all.

But every time a cartoonist makes that sighing, something invariably takes place and they are off again. This time all the stronger a voice. Now transformed into the seasoned cartoonist, there is insight and calm with a body of work at hand. The arguments have been made. If asked, they would not even remember that the sighing took place.

In this instance the Sudanese began to take to the streets to demand freedom after 30 years of an autocratic ruler. For one, he is accused of genocide by the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Now his own countrymen decided that his time was up.

It has been magnificent to experience the new maturity with which Khalid is speaking and drawing. He was always an inquiring cartoonist, insisting on speaking from insight with readiness to know more. Now he is a voice of encouragement, of calm and of wisdom.

He is speaking to those inside Sudan, who have been met with counter-attacks of violence and murder and have been without Internet for weeks and still they are taking to the streets. He is speaking to the diaspora of those, who like himself had had to leave and to the world at large. He is placing the Sudanese people at the center of his attention. "Finally, my political cartoons on Sudan could focus on someone other than a dictator", he wrote in an article for

There is now a "you" as an entity to which he uses direct speech: You have hope and you have it in you to... - to continue the fight and to know to do the right thing, while he emphasizes the right and the need to take time to heal. The World, on the other hand, is the one who needs to pull itself together: "Come on, World" and "Know, World...".

He is constantly emphasizing to every party involved - including that inactive World - that they are seen.
Khalid Albaih, The Bullfighters, February 22, 2019.
The movement of the Sudanese flag comes from the people demonstrating.
The flag and the people form into one and in the opposing corner of the picture plane
the government military units are attacking them. 

An important aspect of his seeing is pointing to each of the ones culpable in the political situation. 

They are the alliances, which happen to be the protagonists we know from all other conflicts today. The responsible ones are given every level of drawn specificity.  The color palette itself is detailed. Added to this we see their slippers and each joint of their hands. The anti-democrats appear dainty, almost fragile. We see them as only too human in their thirst for power. 

They have no superhuman powers, just alliances. 

Khalid Albaih, Recycling, April 27, 2019.
The Emirates and the Saudi help the transitional military council is recycling al-Bashir's old faces.
The movement around the recycle bin forms a recycling sign of its own.

The alliances weave a pattern of transactions reaching back and forth across continents. Knowing every level of who is paid by whom is all the more important to understand the reason for their latest move. The amount of detailed, multi-colored cartoons made for his Sudanese countrymen as well as the World at large forms into a comic.

A series added to day by day of those same personalities, each of whom act from reasons that are no longer too much to grasp, but only too known.

An important aspect of making the Sudanese themselves known they are seen is giving them visual monuments from which to draw strength. They are drawn at once light and elegant as the matadors to whom the movement of their society rightfully belongs. They are drawn as statuesque too in the first cartoon above. The solid tree trunk from which everything grows. A statue of freedom from where the flag billows to the sky. They aspire just as they call out in pain. The soldier cutting down their aspirations is their very opposite. The violence is all darkness, cutting them from the back. Just as for the bull, the military remains low on the ground.

Hope and violence in one, it is the monument of the first half year of demonstrations for freedom and dignity. 

Khalid Albaih, January 15, 2019.
"Sudan peaceful protesters are being targeted with extreme brutality and violence
and answering back with extreme satire and creativity".

Khalid is adding to the novel of our time. General and philosophical while specific too. He continues to place not himself, but the people at the center. The mutual we such as in all of Sudan siding with satire. In this too they have proven their ability to react with creativity. The cartoon right above is combining an element from an old cartoon - the violent force - with the new, collective Sudan taking a victory lap.

So far we have only seen the first round. There is the need to heal, but no reason for the world to define the demonstrations as a mere instance before turning to another piece of news. This is part of a longer and mightier draw and the world needs to keep up its concentration. Counter-moves of the militia are not ending what has begun.

An agreement has been reached between the ruling generals and a coalition of the civilian opposition groups to share the governing power until elections shall be held in 18 months. Until then, we all have a task at hand:


Khalid Albaih has given his cartoons free to be shared.

Monday, 10 June 2019

"We must remain on our guard"

Badiucao, Free Pu Zhiqiang, 2014.

Badiucao, 2013.
- Words by Pu Zhiqiang shortly before his arrest as a human rights lawyer, while campaigning for an official recognition of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Pu Zhiqiang had been among the students protesting in 1989. We still do not know how many were killed that first week in June 1989, when the Chinese government decided to use military force against the students. The official number was 300; while Amnesty International estimated that close to 1,000 may have lost their lives.

The official number, however, was a short-lived one. The massacre has since formed into a non-existence according to the Chinese regime, along with the fact of the protests themselves.

"No one heard me. No one knew I was there (...) There was nothing but pain" are the harrowing words by citizens caught up by an "anti-corruption" law in a video of interviews of detainees, who had undergone torture to procure their confession. Pu Zhiqiang was the interviewer, uncovering how that particular law could be used against any citizen along with their colleagues and family. Shortly after he too was arrested, disbarred and sentenced to a suspended prison sentence.

Badiucao, A Piece Of Red Cloth, 

The active act of silencing. Masking, obscuring, camouflaging and all the more actively so in that the regime is not holding back when it comes to inflicting pain to achieve its goal of hiding its own doings.

Let it be heard. Let it be seen and every work from the hand of Badiucao is a ROAR.

Badiucao, Good Catch Of Xi, 2015.

Badiucao, True Love, 2014.
From Mao to Xi of today.
His line has the carved quality of a woodcut and is all the more forceful from taking inspiration from Käthe Kollwitz from the first decades of the 20th century. She drew with an almost tactile black line on political and social injustice and how its implications could be read in the faces of her contemporaries. Badiucao does her proud constantly highlighting the faces of those silenced by the regime.

For the face of Pu Zhiqiang above, Badiucao is letting each line change from light in the shade and vice versa while it runs through the face. The two lines across the bridge of his nose from one eye to the other, while a dark line is running vertically by his right eye - those three alone makes for a masterly capture of a face that calls for our attention to what he has seen and has to tell us.

"Too strong for the street" the Egyptian street artist of renown El Teneen (i.e. The Dragon) said last year when Sulafa Hijazi and I talked Käthe Kollwitz with him in Berlin. Each artist develops a visual language to create readiness according to the specific place and circumstances. Where confrontation may create antagonism in the one place, Badiucao on the other hands asserts the language of being "too strong". The uncovering needs to be as unflinching as the covering up from the regime.

He is answering the regime back on the level of their actions, and right now all the louder as part of the opposition against the rights granted Hong Kong being chipped away one by one. The situation is all too known:
Badiucao, 2017.

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

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Charta, Carta, Cartoon

Show the cartoonists the respect they deserve and state their name, when their work is shown.

A century ago it was still a rarity that their names were mentioned - at least in continental Europe. At times it was even forbidden to state their names. Imagery was meant to blend in seamlessly as the face of the magazine or paper. Names denote personal interpretation.

What about the name of the profession then, considering its central aspect in creating interpretation that should under no circumstance be mistaken for a mere illustration?

Traditionally in the Scandinavian languages we have given the cartoon a name which spoke not of what it was, but where it was printed: A newspaper drawing. In Danish to boot we have been using the old-fashioned word for a newspaper, "blad", so that it would cover all kinds of printed matter for distribution.

Present day Danes do not even know that word, which means they have no idea what we are talking about when we talk about "a "blad" drawing". A what again?

Cartooning is part of the pulse of its day. Losing its touch, means losing its relevance, so why drag about a name, which so openly speak of a reality that belonged to yesteryear?

The solution is right at hand. Internationally the English cartoon has been adapted by the French - of all places - which solved mistaking comics for cartoons and vice versa when translating between the two languages. In Spanish too cartón is the term now used.

Three world languages down and counting. Hindi too for instance. Cartoon has made its linguistical victory lap a little over a decade now and it has made life so much easier. It highlights that we are part of same dialogue across the continents. I am as yet tentative about how we shall pronounce it in Danish, so it is still to be seen how it will take off. Spelling it might prove easier. In Malay for one it is spelled kartun, which would work well in the Scandinavian languages too.

Charta, carta... cartoon. The fundamental structure of the word was laid almost a millennium ago. Let's relight the fire from its original source.

Per Marquard Otzen, November 25, 2014.

The cartoon shown is courtesy of Per Marquard Otzen and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Friday, 31 May 2019

The Foot Soldiers of Erdogan

Musa Kart, 2017.

The Committee to Protect Journalists send out a weekly newsletter Turkey Crackdown Chronicle which week by week lays out the incidents, the harassment and sentencing made against Turkish journalists.

This week it ended its report on the sentence to two years and two months imprisonment against a construction worker, Deniz Avci, for sharing two cartoons on social media. The verdict states that his act was "insulting" to President Erdogan. Avci appealed his sentence.

One of the cartoons is the one above on Erdogan and his greeting "Hi soldier" to a line of judges as his foot soldiers. Drawn by Musa Kart, who is presently imprisoned.

No action has previously been taken against this specific cartoon and so we must deduct that the regime is not even pretending to define what is acceptable critique or not any longer: Any cartoon from the hand of Musa Kart is now automatically a punishable crime.

Let it be seen, then. Let us continue to let Musa Kart be seen, just as we must continue to let it be known that he is in prison for his work. Let us continue to share the # in his name by Cartooning for Peace and Cartoonists Rights Network International:


Saturday, 25 May 2019

Duelling Pens

     Pages for a new History of Political Cartooning in Denmark

Peter Klæstrup for Folkets Nisse, No. 67, June 19, 1852.
Two inmates in an madhouse in agreement that an opposing daily of Folkets Nisse
is the only sane outlet. The rest have lost their mind...

Peter Klæstrup for Folkets Nisse, No. 88
November 13, 1852.
An editor doing his troublesome work:
The king attacked by one of his own,
and one of his own attacked the king.
How to repeat the same message with a minor tweaking.
It is election week in Europe to the EU parliament and in Denmark it will be time to vote for the national parliament in two weeks time. The occasion is thus ripe to be looking at how to draw political opponents and especially where to find them.

The present examples were drawn but a few years into the Danish democracy with the constitution in place securing the right to draw freely. The energy was high, but the positions long firmly in place. The transition to democracy was a peaceful one here in that the main institutions remained in place securing a smooth change and so likewise, political positions remained the same as before.

Peter Klæstrup for Folkets Nisse, No. 94
December 25, 1852.
An elastic literatus, who can be arranged
to take both viewpoints as wished for.

Some had been starch supporters of the monarchy and the society as it was and they would be all the fiercer in keeping their opponents at bay.

They in turn became the No. 1 target by the drawn satire and all the more so for having been drawn as such long before the constitution. Back then ridiculing the king was a short-termed strategy before censorship and courts would be thrown at them and so the drawn satire had turned on those speaking up in support of the status quo.

Peter Klæstrup for Folkets Nisse, No. 28
July 15, 1865.
When a daily wastes its space on a story on a run-away monkey.
Folkets Nisse reprinted the full text, this time with illustrations
and the editor in the leading role as the monkey.
Among the applauding audience is seen the elastic literatus.
The thing about dailies just as the weekly satirical papers is that they may be bought by the one person, but end up being read by everyone surrounding that first buyer. Hans Christian Andersen would reflect on how a satirical weekly may be bought by a servant but it would be read by his employer and his family too - who would officially never stoop so low as to buy it.

A daily just as a weekly thus have their own readers while their opponents follow its every move. The situation is not unlike that of propaganda, which is as much directed to an opponent as it is to reassure one's own side.

Peter Klæstrup for Folkets Nisse, No. 28, July 15, 1865.
The monkey refused to be caught, but could not resist
this temptation and was once again under control.
And so, what is printed on a page in no way stays there. An article may insist on enlightening a matter while inviting a reaction from those who are not even officially readers of the paper. Those non-readers would in turn have their own pens. They would immediately write an opinion piece shredding that first article while not having to wait long to see a reaction in turn.

The life of papers is not unfolded on the paper itself, but within life of the society at large, with a crisscrossing of sharp pens.

It is a duel.

The ridicule against political opponents of the press is political satire at its sharpest, in that it is aiming at undermining their political stance as much as their professional position. In this instance it is not about kicking up or down in society, but among themselves.

Peter Klæstrup for Folkets Nisse, No. 7, February 18, 1865.
Left side of the drawing:
The director of the royal theatre, who fought anyone doubting the rights of the monarch.
Two editors, the monkey-for-a-day and the elastic literatus,
are enjoying the view of those whose necks are under threat -

It is not just allowed, but expected to be as sharp balancing on vulgar as possible. Any attributes that refer back to stupid opinions or doings, making certain that they cling to the person as a constant definition. Execution scenes are everywhere in the early satirical papers such as placing someone within a picture frame by way of the wooden gallows.

Peter Klæstrup for Folkets Nisse, No. 7, February 18, 1865.
Right side of the drawing:
- and the threatened editors, none of which would always agree,
but finding themselves on the same side in this instance.
Mr. Sørensen, the archetypal Dane, is seen to the far right.
Before we feel sorry for the wretched, the reasoning is to pen who are trying to tear democracy apart, seeing - as stated above - how the quiet transition into said democracy left intact many layers of the old structures of power. Corruption was undressed, just as those who enjoyed being bought.

We have no gallows today, but we know this type of cartooning to this day in this country. The outreach among the papers and weeklies are weakened today, however, by the algorithms deciding for us what we see and hear. We are now much more tied to those we already agree with than when the dailies were bound on physical paper.

Peter Klæstrup is the cartoonist of the present examples. Never named in his weekly and it has been constantly stated since that of course he drew, but did not carve out the blocks used for printing. It is my insistence that he did indeed carve them out himself. The sharp edging creating shadow and light of the two madhouse inmates above is Klæstrup at his very best. My only actual proof was that his father had been a lithographer and consequently his son would have learnt from him from early childhood.

It turned out I was right. I found the evidence in an obituary on Klæstrup written by one of his old adversaries.

Hat off to the old opponent at his curtain fall.

Peter Klæstrup for Folkets Nisse
No. 94, December 25, 1852.
All the editors forced around the Christmas tree of Folkets Nisse. The ornaments are
made from those they endorsed during the year.
The Folkets Nisse (The vigilant pixy of the people) is at the top of the tree.
The motto of the paper was "The press is a guard against wrongdoing".

Monday, 20 May 2019

Drawing From The Other Side

It is high time internet memes were elevated to the place of editorial cartooning, Assistant Professor of Communications (Social Media) at Syracuse University, Jennifer Grygiel, wrote on May 17 on Cartoonists are no longer in touch with the diversity of their beholders. They do not represent the diversity of today's society, just as they fail to address the lives of their beholders.

The "forget all about"-format is threadbare to say the least, and in this case internet memes and cartooning are co-existing on the internet and as such side by side - while editorial cartooning is living a precarious life in the dailies. Cartoonists are more often than not homeless in the traditional sense of cartooning, turning to (the unpaid) social media to publish their work. Here they have found new audiences and we look to the internet when we wish to see some of the best and punchiest of political cartooning in the world today.

But what is of particular interest to me in this, is Dr. Grygiel's emphasis on the democratic nature of internet memes.

Democratic in that it takes no technical skill to create them. Cartooning on the other hand means training the hand and mind through ink.

We could say that that is exactly why we need both with no need to speak of difference in quality. It is just that cartooning is not emptied by that description.

Internet memes create collages, usually from a given set of imagery at hand to which is added a one-liner. Cartooning at its best on the other hand works from the hitherto unseen even if the figurative elements are already known.

Let me give an example. The day after Dr. Grygiel's article Siri Dokken published this cartoon on social media, on those who fall through the net of our society - and it is cold on the other side:

Siri Dokken, May 18, 2019.

The fear and the pain are as indefinite as the deep into which they are disappearing. Their breath is icy visible. The sick, the elderly and the young families with children alike. The big blue endlessness is confronting our responsibility as citizens. This is our lives.

This is what art does. We may be pushed across boundaries and confronted with a danger, which would be lethal in real life. There is no photo of the net of society and if so it would be immoral to see them without their consent. A scene such as the present is not a territory for memes.

The cartoon is breaking borders, placing us literally at that beyond of the world. We are confronted with not just the scene but with our reaction. The feeling of pain, the insistence of wishing to support the mother, while realizing that the young woman on crutches is already beyond our reach. Then again, we shall never be able to reach out to them. They are not real and so we are in pain of being out of action while the shining fear of their eyes keep haunting us. There is no redemption, no mellowing. It may lead to another level of action in actual life from our need to react. We are feeling, thinking, realizing.

The democratic element of cartooning was never about its creation, but partaking in it. While memes are anonymous, cartoons are made by a specific, named artist and placed out there as their opinion. As such the cartoon is an opening for debate, never an end in itself.

The cartoon shown is courtesy of Siri Dokken and must not be reproduced without her permission.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019


Cintia Bolio, In solidarity with Musa Kart, April 27, 2019.

Cartooning is defined by inquisitive freedom in the words of Musa Kart as he laid out in his statement at the trial last April against him and six of his colleagues at the daily Cumhuriyet. They lost their appeal in February. Last week he was seized and taken back to prison.

Allegations, trials and convictions are the language of silencers. Let us work against the silencing of his voice. Let his name be known by everyone. Let us shout out his right to inquire, to be critical and to be free and share the # in his name by Cartooning for Peace and Cartoonists Rights Network International::


Monday, 29 April 2019

Speaking of the Dead

Bonil, #alangarcia, April 19, 2019.

A former president was about to be arrested for accusations of receiving bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. When a prosecutor arrived with the police at his house, he fatally shot himself in the head.

So... what type of story is this? Is Alan Garcia the victim, as he declared himself in a purported suicide note refusing the humiliation and misery from political "enemies"? The very notion of his death would by some place him as an untouchable such as by fellow former corrupt presidents of this world, along with a number of darkened souls or bored ones immediately coming out of the wood work when Bonil drew the cartoon above, crying "Upset! Uproar!"

We know the drill and in terms of noise level it is efficient. So is it relevant, or rather the right thing to do to draw him posthumously?

Alan Garcia declared himself the victim, but do we have to take his word for it? His death was in direct line of how he governed his life. His death happened due to his lack of ability to discern right from wrong. As such his death is a situation of taking stock.

Bonil has made no allusions to the private persona of Alan Garcia. He is drawn as an icon just as he presented himself. Massive and centrally placed, his head is turned away from us mere mortals, insisting on his ethereal status looking far and beyond in the attempt of letting the scandal of Odebrecht evaporate.

We have three parts before us. His portrait. The shot fired by his own hand fleeing justice and the firm frame making certain that while his person shall never be placed before a judge, nor shall his name flee his responsibility. Odebrecht is what he shall be defined by.

Bonil has drawn an obituary and obituaries are an art form.

Obituaries are at their best a piece of brilliant writing, a cenotaph summing up the past while written for the future. This is when a person becomes history and it constitutes the first layer to writing him or her into history. As such they necessarily have bite.

Obituaries have nothing to do with death, but all about life as the New York Times' Margalit Fox has told the Paris Review. As she concluded: Obituaries are the jolliest department of the paper. 

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

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