Thursday, 20 February 2014

Another Attempt to Silence a Cartoonist

Below is a drawing, we know only too painfully well. Made in August 2011 when Ali Ferzat was attacked in Damascus and his hands maimed in order to prevent him from ever drawing again. Words which were even yelled at him while he was being beaten up.

And now the words and the deed behind them are yet again a cruel reality:

Monday, 17 February 2014

A Nominee for Worst Editor in History?

Djamel Ghanem, September 27, 2013.
Thousands of job positions in September.


A strange word that has an invisibility to it. It is the glue of our society without which everything would be in chaos in a matter of a few days. However, it is only at times such as in our house with my Father on a ventilator that we are constantly vigilant of the electricity supply. Even a hint of a problem and his life will be at risk.

Internal and in every corner of society, lacking a center, infrastructure constitutes the same pictorial issues as the notion of democracy. And yet it is exactly in this the Algerian cartoonist, Djamel Ghanem, excels. With a delicate line which reminisces the French mid 20th century tradition, he depicts endless rows of desks or a line of fire extinguishers with no beginning or end and an occasional inspector, all of which by description sounds fairly graphically simple, but intricately unveils the lack of professionalism within the organization of society.

Some in power constitute themselves as different from the rest, taking the privilege of definition upon them, such as who is in favor and who is not, making the whole system weak. But the defining power is not included in his drawings, it is not even pointed at. Djamel Ghanem undresses the weakness of the whole tissue by creating a picture plane of repetitiveness. He creates drawings without a center.

This is the kind of cartoons that will go directly to the history books. Djamel Ghanem's drawings employs the language of power, revealing the absurdity the part of infrastructure which is constituted by social interactions. Such as the measures taken when the revolution broke out in Tunisia, curing the symptom of potential protesters setting fire to themselves with the correct placing of fire-extinguishers.

And now he is about to stand trial for a cartoon on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The maximum penalty if found guilty is 18 months of imprisonment.

Djamel Ghanem, September 27, 2013.
- Get up! Where do you think you are? In parliament...

Only in this case the suit was not filed by the president, but Djamel Ghanem's own editor and now former employer of the paper la Voix de l'Oranie.

The drawing in case is said to address the president and his possibility for a fourth term in office. But its contents are of no matter, since it was never even printed. This is new. Censorship in legal terms is not about the artwork itself, but its publication and distribution to a wider audience. Daumier was allowed to draw as he wished during the French July Monarchy, but when his drawings were published, his editor was taken to court and given a prison sentence.

His editor.

Editors and publishers have stood up for centuries for the critical voices they conveyed to the public and have paid the consequences that came with it. It has given them a place in history along with the cartoonists whose works they gave a platform.

This editor apparently saw a way out of paying his now former employee what he owed him by suing him instead, believing that if he could just drag in the name of the president, he could claim his own moral superiority.

There is no case, just a spineless editor. May the case be dissolved and may there be others who dare look at Djamel Ghanem's work for its rightful value. And thereby owe themselves their own place in history.

Djamel Ghanem, January 26, 2011.
Preventive measures against immolation.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Djamel Ghanem. 

ETA: February 20 was Djamel attacked in an attempt to prevent him from drawing.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The continuous hand gesture

Annette Carlsen: Plantu, February 12, 2014.

- it is the continuous hand gesture of the artist that is a precondition for the line in the drawing, the result of which we see when looking at the drawing. And yet we do not take in the final drawing as a unity, already there. We follow the gesture along the picture plane as if the drawing was being made in front of us.

The observation was made by the late philosopher Richard Wollheim and his words are the first that spring to mind when I see Annette Carlsen at work.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

"Europe is sleeping"

Ida Felicia Noack: Plantu, February 12, 2014.

The emphasis on the contour of each feature underlines the focus on every utterance from the portrayed. Cartoonists listen through their pen, they transform on the spot what is being unfolded.

Ida Felicia Noack catching her colleagues on paper, February 12, 2014.

And so it follows that in a discussion of cartoonists, they draw each other.

Ida Felicia Noack caught Erik Petri on paper while drawing on paper panels at the back of the room when Plantu chaired a masterclass with the Danish cartoonists in Copenhagen this week. The theme of the day turned out to become BEWARE of the state of our democracy and with the very word democracy comes cartooning:

Ida Felicia Noack: Erik Petri drawing, February 12, 2014.

We have a new kind of censorship at hand, Plantu clarified. There is the vulgar one we know from Iran and, using the example of his own country, we have the hypocrite one. I need not even detail - his line of reasoning, the standpoint of editors today, not to mention the reaction from across the world and the impact of it all on the situation of the cartoonist was nailed by Erik Petri:

Erik Petri, the second panel of the day - February 12, 2014. Photo: Erik Petri.

- Europe is sleeping. Brussels is sleeping.

As Plantu stated. There is no room for critique. Everything has to be clear and plain, not causing concern that it might be misunderstood. Harmless is the word.

Syria for one has been forgotten. All we get is disinformation about Syria, while a cat in need is placed on the front page. "Sympathique, but I prefer the cat", today's editor will exclaim when presented with other options for a drawn editorial.

And so Plantu stressed: We have to tell everybody that this is the end of democracy.

While there was consensus about the state of the matter, there was an insistence on the possibility of creating a change. Claus Gade Sørensen argued that cartoonists combine news and entertainment, which give the cartoonists a space in which to operate, while Roald Als underlined that it is the job of cartoonists to create laughter. A critical one at that, if people laugh, the cartoonist will be given the front page.

Ida Felicia Noack: The host of the day, Lars Refn, with Plantu,
February 12, 2014.
Besides - while Roald was at it - Cartooning for Peace: When has cartooning ever been about peace? Cartoonists are not peace-makers. They create trouble, making us laugh in the process as a means to get heard.

And so when it came to decide on a topic to draw, it had to be the on self-censorship, and everyone sat down to find each their angle on the matter...

Is there anything as inspiring as the artistic process?

Intense silence while everybody is drawing
At first ideas are hit upon, rejected and new ones welcomed. Any ideas from someone like me are already useless. Cartooning is not illustrating verbal reasoning, but creating a meaning, including its counterpoints through radically different means.

Erik Petri at the laptop, while Jørn Villumsen is off for a moment
Then silence sets in while the first sketches are condensed. The tension is palpable, and not even broken by the sudden need to withdraw to the corners, windows or to simply stand up in order to put different perspectives onto the paper. Kierkegaard was not alone in this technique. And finally the low humming of machine power when the laptops are opened and the drawings scanned to make the final adjustments.

Rasmus Sand Høyer: Plantu, February 12, 2014.

Rasmus Sand Høyer: Maité Leon -
the gorgeous assistant of Plantu, February 12, 2014.

The drawn protagonists snapping their own portraits
Ida Noack: Plantu and Maité Leon, February 12, 2014.

And just for comparison, dialoguing through drawing, naturally:

Dialogue through drawings, Maité Leon and Plantu, February 12, 2014.

The condensation of the day as seen by Plantu:

Plantu, February 12, 2014.

And yes, Denmark is a country which houses more pigs than humans. The three monotheistic religions in powerful unison, the torture of the light from the lamp and the demands from the outside, all partake to the final outcome on the cartoonists' paper. It is the prohibition itself which makes his final image.

"Civil Strike! I will not obey a government that has lost its legitimacy"
Photo: Tony Daoud, 2013
I adore Plantu's reflection of the Danish flag in the symbol of "entrance forbidden", elegantly balanced in the three red focal points across the picture plane. The white cross of the flag is such a fixed graphic construction and seeing it reflected in this particular sign which has been a symbol of civil disobedience, not least in Syria - is a visual revelation.

So Syria offers us a way not least for the cartoonists in Europe: Much more civil disobedience!

- All drawings shown are courtesy of their cartoonists and must not be reproduced without their permission. Unless otherwise stated the photos were taken by me.

Friday, 7 February 2014

"A Lesson in Drawing"

On the morning when the photo-documentation of the 11,000 Syrian detainees, murdered by the Assad-rule was publicized, Tarek Alghorani nodded that he had personally seen and heard even worse. The photos were all too true. He sent the poem below by his fellow countryman, Nizar Qabbani, for my brother and I to read when commemorating our uncle.

The poem unfolds how the simplest line stems directly from our innermost being. Expression comes from a place deeper than our conscious presence, of which a third great Syrian, the cartoonist Juan Zero, is the perfect interpreter. 

Juan Zero is a minimalist, taking drawing to its core with a few strokes using a slightly wavering line. The texture of his line alone is a tale about the necessity to draw, exposing what is taking place in Syria here and now. Just how intense the line is, is laid bare when paraphrasing the outcry of The Guernica, calling out once again, this time on the situation of all Syrians: Don't forget those still detained.

Juan Zero, From the series Free Syria, May 17, 2012.

By Nizar Qabbani

A Lesson in Drawing

"My son places his paint box in front of me
and asks me to draw a bird for him.
Into the color gray I dip the brush
and draw a square with locks and bars.
Astonishment fills his eyes:
'… But this is a prison, Father,
Don't you know, how to draw a bird?'
And I tell him: 'Son, forgive me.
I've forgotten the shapes of birds.'

Juan Zero, From the series Free Syria, April 17, 2012.

My son puts the drawing book in front of me
and asks me to draw a wheatstalk.
I hold the pen
and draw a gun.
My son mocks my ignorance,
'Don't you know, Father, the difference between a
wheatstalk and a gun?'
I tell him, 'Son,
once I used to know the shapes of wheatstalks
the shape of the loaf
the shape of the rose
But in this hardened time
the trees of the forest have joined
the militia men
and the rose wears dull fatigues
In this time of armed wheatstalks
armed birds
armed culture
and armed religion
you can't buy a loaf
without finding a gun inside
you can't pluck a rose in the field
without its raising its thorns in your face
you can't buy a book
that doesn't explode between your fingers.'

Juan Zero, From the series Free Syria 2, October 3, 2013.

My son sits at the edge of my bed
and asks me to recite a poem,
A tear falls from my eyes onto the pillow.
My son licks it up, astonished, saying:
'But this is a tear, father, not a poem!'
And I tell him:
'When you grow up, my son,
and read the diwan of Arabic poetry
you'll discover that the word and the tear are twins
and the Arabic poem
is no more than a tear wept by writing fingers.'

My son lays down his pens, his crayon box in
front of me
and asks me to draw a homeland for him.
The brush trembles in my hands
and I sink, weeping". 

Juan Zero, Don't Forget the Detainees, January 26, 2014.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Congratulations Per Marquard Otzen!

Per Marquard Otzen, The World of the Book, November 18, 2007.

A long shadow is cast the length of the book page. It is not an easy thing reading. At least it should not be. We should be wounded and stabbed, taking a blow to our heads, in the words of Kafka, why else should we be reading?

Why else should we be looking at cartoons? 
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