Sunday, 28 September 2014

"Vote for me, vote for God"

Since it so happens that searching for the presidential candidates in the upcoming Tunesian elections may bring you to this blog, let us do a poster on that very topic. Willis has of course been long ready, and so has Yahia Boulahia.

His poster has been waiting in a drawer for the opportunty since January 2012. In fact Yahia Boulahia was created as a character for that very purpose. So, without further ado: 

"The vote that will open the doors of Paradise for you
Yahia Boulahia: From the light towards the dark"
- His sponsors are of the highest order.

Photo: Imperial War Museum.

Yahia is an Islamist without a doubting bone in his body. His face is full on and not a hint of a shadow to add layers to his personality. On the contrary the rays emanate from him in his certainty of embodying the light itself. And the rage, always the rage of the Islamist. His only focus is to command us to do as he tells us. This is his usual way of addressing the world, but there is something about the poster which tends towards another famous one.

This one by Alfred Leete, first published on the cover of the magazine London Opinon on September 5, 1914. Featuring Kitchener the Secretary of State for War and copied ever since to a degree that it is invariably used derogatively today, when someone is speaking by way of command, pretending to make a moral appeal. Such as Yahia Boulahia.

The Leete-poster has an interesting angle to it right now, when seeing the two together. The thing is, only three copies of the Leete-poster are still in existence.

Was it really so widely distributed? Were we all tricked into believing that we have seen photos, actual proof of its existence? Two books with each their version of the question have been published within the past months and many will follow. Much of the debate is on the precision of data to be known, such as that the poster was not printed by the official propaganda machine for one, but a private undertaking. The unfolding of the arguments are worthy of a crime novel.

But the thing is: We can never know for certain. We were not there ourselves and if we were, chance had it that we might have been too little observant or made too much of what we saw.

The debate takes up the ever-interesting question on the impact of the image. I remember reading how the poster had worked itself sufficiently under the skin of the volunteer George Coppard, who marched past Kitchener in February 1915 and realized that the latter was "nothing like the dark handsome posters of him which were displayed all over the country". So, it was out there... And maybe the debate is first and foremost an indication that we have yet to get to grips analytically with the life of art on paper. 

For one thing there was paper everywhere back then. Those were the days where the cartoonists were living the wet dream of their art running to and fro with rolls of papers under one arm (as Valdemar was known to do in Copenhagen). They worked for all the publishing houses, advertising companies, news papers, magazines and the printers' shops. Each of the companies launched more than the one product, producing cards, leaflets, pamphlets and we could go on. The one piece of paper was cheap in costs and may have vanished as soon as it was produced, but they kept coming and the advertisers and cartoonists working in unison kept experimenting with a talent for perceiving what would work.

So can a poster make a difference? Has a poster indeed any such power to catapult a measly Islamist into power to bring his country into peril?

Yahia Boulahia, September 23, 2014.

He himself is as always of no doubt. The dreamy and yet determined outlook of Shepard Fairey's Obama poster has been transformed into a full-frontal menacing answer. Now in total darkness.

The posters shown are courtesy of Yahia Boulahia and his cartoonist and must not be reproduced without their permission.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

On Taking the Contour Off Human Life

Hokusai attempted to create the ultimate artwork, and far from being satisfied with his achivements himself, yet he created the archetype of the sea, of movement and of danger in the one and same take.

Hamid Suleiman has by way of Hokusai transformed the now of war, of fleeing, the callous sailors and those desperate for safety. All the more painful for not including a wave. Only the suggestion of it in the sinking boat with the foam of humans in peril:

Hamid Sulaiman, Refugees' boat waiting for The Great Wave off Kanagawa
mixed media on paper, September 20, 2014

Hamid Sulaiman employs the effects of a wooden print, such as the slightly zigzaggy waving lines and the fuzzy outlines of the ink as if caused from the soft wood. And then he does anything but of what we expect. 

There is no thick contour to go with it. On the contrary his works are next to contourless. This is what makes the Refugees' boat so very menacing to behold. It is hardly there and all the more so for being humans in utmost danger, exposed as they are to a space which aims at dissolution. In fact the only defined one, is the disguised one. In direct oppostion to the unmistakable movement of youth, distant too as a fading memory: 

Hamid Sulaiman, drawing from the Brainwash project, ink on paper, May 16, 2014.

The artworks shown are courtesy of Hamid Sulaiman and must not reproduced without his permission.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Searching for Pap'Azo

Centre Africain de la Caricature (CAC) is wondering if anyone would know the whereabouts of the cartoonist Pap'Azo?

Azo Bikoka, or Papa Azo (Pap'Azo) belonged to the first generation of Congolesan cartoonists, who in the 1950s addressed a situation of combat against colonialism and the demand for independence. The colonial papers before them had been unpolitical, but with the growing awareness and soon insistence on new times, new papers emerged. Combat papers, Alain Mushabah Massumbuko, CEO and researcher of CAC, calls them. 

And with the combat papers, came combat cartoonists.

Pap'Azo, No comment, 1965.
Centre Africain de la Caricature.

The tone of the publications was a light one, constantly tickling the colonial power, interspersed with verbal abuse of the more direct kind. All in all the newspapers are said to have played their part in Congo gaining independence i 1960 and one of the most important of these young artists was Pap'Azo. From combat cartoonist he went on to draw the social daily life of the new country and the struggle to find a new footing, among others witnessing the assasination of the first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, in 1961. 

Pap'Azo, Will the People declare him guilty???
No comment.

- Life! How it changes! you strive to get as high as possible
and one fine day you discover that you have never been this low!
The first president, Joseph Kasa-Vubu, who
was dismissed and for a time placed under house-arrest in 1965.

Today, there are no known works of Pap'Azo in existence. The one shown here, is the only print known today, published presumably in 1965 or 1966 in a local newspaper in Kinshasa. But original works could be out there, as could Pap'Azo himself. He was last known to be living in the Kisangani area, more precisely in the parish of Saint Kizito.

If anyone knows of him or his works, please contact the Centre Africain de la Caricature at 
TEL: (+ 243) 89 54 71 159 / 99 99 81 390.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Health in Venezuela

A case of minimalism.

Rayma Suprani, Health / Health in Venezuela.
Printed in El Universal, September 17, 2014.

The straight line. Vertical. Red. With the signature of Hugo Chávez.

Symbolical and literal in the very same take. Its cartoonist, Rayma Suprani, was fired the very next day of its publication from the paper, El Universal, whose cartoonist she had been for 19 years.

Chávez died in 2013. His successors proved Rayma's point by their very reaction.

Such is the power of the cartoonist. Such is the pressure under which the cartoonist is living.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

"We meet at the Zitouna Mosque...

Photo: Mahn Kloix, September 5, 2014.
... in the heart of the medina of Tunis with O., a member of the graffiti group Zwewla. On the first night we put up posters in a place that is quite busy, close to a school of traditional music. It is necessary to work in haste. O. explains that the medina is monitored by "guardians", circulating within the walls of the Old City.

A guardian of the neighborhood just so happens to pass by the minute we are finishing doing the paste-up. O. invents a story about a collaboration with the School of Music, and we decamp. O. is quite tense."

This is how Mahn Kloix and Yuvany Gnep open their tale
#SmallisBig: Collages in the Medina in La Marseillaise.

Mahn Kloix is the creator of Small is Big; a project on the iconicity of the public uprisings of the past years from Canada and the US to Spain, Greece, Tunisia and Egypt.

Faces from each uprising as we have seen them in glittery photos, were drawn with a thin line to keep that sense of the sharp crispness of high-definition lights and shadows of their photos, as it befits icons. Each face is a representation of courage, such as El Général, the alias of Hamada Ben Amor, who wrote the unofficial anthem of the Tunesian Uprising, Rais Lebled, or Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of the fruit vendor, who literally ignited the Arab spring when he set fire to himself from desperation in December 2010.

Each face was made into a poster to be pasted the very places, where it all took place. Then as before an uprising is made of the many faces, only this time of faces from across the world, being gathered to reflect the situation between then and now.

In Tunis Mahn Kloix and Yuvany Gnep worked together with Zwewla, and the tension with which they are forced to work is particularly poignant; it is still not safe for them to work in the streets. The one thing they themselves but rarely will mention:

Photo: Mahn Kloix, September 5, 2014.

Photo: Mahn Kloix, September 5, 2014.

The 2nd paste-up in the Medina 

by Mahn Kloix and Yuvany Gnep

Second evening, meeting at 7 o'clock with four members of the collective Zwewla. We hope to succeed this time in working together mixing the stenciled words of Zwewla with Mahn's posters. The messages of the Tunisian collective are the perfect partners to the The Small is Big-project. The graffiti and stencils by Zwewla denounce social injustice and call for the poorest segment of the Tunisian society not to remain passive in the face of the difficulties that beset them, demanding their rights to be respected. So we all set out hunting in the old town and quickly opt for a couple of walls.

Photo: Mahn Kloix, September 5, 2014.
The first wall is located in a beautiful archway. Some are standing guard at the entrances of the passage, others take pictures. As it is quite early in the evening, some people are passing by, which makes O. rather nervous. So unfortunately we have to leave before Zwewla has time to write anything. We hope to return later in the evening.

We return to the streets to wander in search of a less crowded place. We stop in another passage. Mahn glue a square af posters, and this time Zwewla has the time to do a stencil. The text of the stencil is a sentence from a Tunisian proverb: "No one is above the law, but everyone is above the poor." No tag here either though: One of the guardians of the medina interrupts us. He talks about calling other guards. O. decides not to go back to the first place and to look for a another...

We wander for a long time, as long as the shadows in the old city, but the designated locations are under surveillance. We decide to stop... with regret because some of the stencils have not been tagged, and there are still six posters left. We are a little frustrated and tired from kilometers of walking, but happy about the shared experience. We decide to leave the posters to the Zwewla members in appreciation of their help; without them our adventure in Tunisia would not have had the same impact, nor have been of the same flavor. And we know they will be used well.

Photo: Mahn Kloix, September 5, 2014.
A square of posters with the proverb written by Zwewla:
"No one is above the law, but everyone is above the poor".

Text and photos are courtesy of Mahn Kloix and must not be reproduced without his permission. Much more on the project, photos and most importantly the posters themselves can be seen here.

Monday, 15 September 2014

"What can I possibly draw?"

Mazen Kerbaj, Postcard from Beyrut, 2007.

When I first saw the Postcard above, Henry Tonks sprung to mind. The surgeon-turned-artist-and-then-surgeon-once-again, when World War 1 was a reality. He recorded the shattered faces of the soldiers and the attempts to recreate them, so that they could once again pass as humans.

And yet, the war could never be wiped off of them; there was no going back to normality. What is it after all, normality. It is a strange notion. We strive for Order that turns out to have no affinity with reality and as such has its beauty. Tragedies were written for that very purpose. With heroes doing the right thing according to the ideal aristotelian binarism of good and bad.

And then there is the comedy, based on our daily lives. Altogether base through and through and certainly without heroes, but they have protagonists, in this case the artist himself: Mazen Kerbaj; that unique being who makes anything into art, be it visually or of sound that he touches.

He has indeed the format of an exemplary protagonist, taking a step back to reflect, drawing all along, such as when it is time to say Goodbye Habits (September 19, 2011) before departing for two months to Paris, or the Souvenir From Two Forgotten Moments (February 15, 2014). To this end he makes use of the complete surface, in fact anything may be turned into a surface, onto which he unfolds choises to be made, or avoid being made, half-thoughts, ideas, worries and wonderings, letting the to-and-fros grow with sudden turns sometimes almost finishing a motif, before its contours grow into seven others.

Mazen Kerbaj, What can I possibly draw? April 11, 2014.

The picture plane is each time an orchestrated unfolding into space of what he is telling us through the line, transforming the picture plane into time in a physical sense for the spectator to take in. Each drawing actually demands time from us and if it sounds familiar in a Proustian way, then yes, they are colleagues with Bergson lurking somewhere behind the dynamics of the duration of time and space.

And the tales each drawing tells us is a reflection on how to encompass existence, focusing on how we structure life, and with it our cities and societies that for better or worse are built on humans:

acrylic on old drawer, 2009-2010.

Striving to encompass the many claims, the noises, the buildings cutting through, knives cutting through too, the roads dividing lives and always that plane, that way out. The more we look, the more cutting the critique of the organization of life, made possible by the artist standing back, uncovering it all layer by layer: 

Mazen Kerbaj, We are living through a great period in history, May 5, 2014.
For Westerners, I am a fucking Arab.
For Arabs, I am a fucking Christian
For Christians, I am a fucking Atheist
- Does anybody have vaseline?

The artworks shown are courtesy of Mazen Kerbaj and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Obey the, well...

I have written before on the courage of the Resistance of WW2, of which my paternal grandfather was one and today would have been his birthday. Since what he did back then was morally reprehensible according to the official stance of the Danish government, it is a fitting day to enjoy a bit of civil disobedience.

Since World War II children in Northern Europe have been taught not to take anything at face value. Our very first books in life tell us to tease, challenge and question the authorities.

A street sign in a childrens' book is doomed to be stolen and burnt. So the extra coat of paint on the one below is in fact a rather subtle undermining of reason, by whoever saw the potential of creating a metasign:

Sign seen in Willemoesgade, Copenhagen, September 5, 2014.
Photo: Hanne Brandt Andersen.

The photo shown is courtesy of Hanne Brandt Andersen and must not be reproduced without her permission.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Movement and Its Opposites

The Algerian cartooning background of Djamel Lounis is instantly recognizable for its roots in Belgian/French 20th century postwar comic strips. A rounded contour with no fear of speaking in as clear a voice as the quality of the contour. All the more outspoken in leaving most of the paper in a void. All is said with the one person or the clash between the two of them that no more is needed. Even a comment on the weather turns into a menacing question.

Djamel Lounis, 
50C in the shadows at the south of Algeria
August 5, 2012.
- The shadows, where?

Djamel Lounis, 
Iran is thought to be in possession of the nuclear bomb,
November 19, 2011

All the more menacing in a society in which the authorities do not even see the need for an exclamation mark, while denying the citizens their rights:

Djamel Lounis, Human Rights Day, December 29, 2012.
- You do not have the right

Djamel Lounis' take on the IS in recent days is particularly poignant for using the traditional setting of a cartoon, in which two persons meet and battle out their positions. In this case the movement of freedom is taken to a full stop by being nailed to the ground by the sheer violent party. Stabbed in the back as it happens.

And on talking of backstabbing, when a flag is this frayed, it is about time it was burned. They are disrespectful to the very thing they claim to worship....

Djamel Lounis, The Islamic Caliphate seeks to root itself everywhere, September 9, 2014.

The freedom of movement in his country, mentally as well as physically, is inescapably the central theme too in the self-portrait of the artist. Always the promise and as always only the reality of waiting:

Djamel Lounis, The Free Circulation of the Algerians, March 3, 2008.

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

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Is This a Portrait of Europe?

Fadi Abou Hassan, Minister of Finance, September 7, 2014.

We have grown up being taught of the dangers of this figure. The Eichmann of the Holocaust, the one who made the ultimate identification with his role, making himself invisible, if not nonexistant outside his task at hand. Adorno was critical of Arendt and her analysis of Eichmann, of which the word "banal" precedes all familiarity of what she actually wrote. Adorno would not be Adorno had he not insisted on clarification by way of problematizing, so he agreed with her in identifying the evil as trivial. Only he would put it the other way round: Evil is not trivial per se, it is triviality that is evil.

Fadi Abou Hassan has made a series of ministers representing each their field and yet remaining hidden. The same amorphous body underneath all of them, defining the "unchanging in form and character" of a uniform.

To the one fleeing from war, this is how Europe presents itself today. The bureaucrat sealing off the continent.

The cartoon shown is courtesy of Fadi Abou Hassan and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Striving

John Stuart Mill. He is the one, who put the situation into perspective this time too, when the Danish media discovered a case of an "artist" declared guilty of racism back in April and again in July/August in Sweden.

The name of the convict is Dan Park and he, well, there is nothing in what he does, we can remotely refer to as art. There are no layers of interest, nor different approaches we can grasp from the lousy prints that bear his name. They are onesidedly mockers of certain groups of the Swedish society. Not the authorities, questioning those in power, challenging them, making structures visible, which were otherwise unknown, as we saw it with the printed art of the 1970's. No, their only aim is to mock and belittle. The Swedish street artists see no affinity with him.

The matter should never have been taken to court. That is the first and last of it. Jurisdiction has but two options of declaring guilt or innocence, of which neither is a useful answer in a public context. Dan Park seems on a constant quest to declare himself a victim by way of defaming others, waiting for them to get enough of him and answer back. Apart from that observation, I shall waste no more breath on what he does.      

The declaration of sensation and scandal in the Danish media is on the other hand all the more telling on how much we have forgotten, taking the freedom of speech for granted in comparison to another discussion I have been following with great interest, particularly when Aya Tarek gave us her input. Aya was one of the very first, the most courageous and especially most talented of the Egyptian mural artists, creating walls well before January 2011, and she is still in her very early twenties.

"I am bored of her genitals", Aya Tarek declared in her usual wonderfully frank manner on the Egyptian FEMEN-activist Alia El-Mahdi. The latter has sullied and bloodied the flag of ISIS, an image of which can be seen here. Aya has all along been unchanging in her demand for artistic merit. Politics must never be an excuse for wasting public attention, and to her eyes Alia El-Mahdi is not an artist. She is but a "desperate attention whore".

This is where it got interesting, in that the discussion immediately turned to the question of attention whoring: Is this but a personal exposure, or could it be a way to transcend one's identity? Does she even transcend pornography in the first place? While she is actually taking a stance, which could be dangerous to her, is this of a type worth taking? Was there any need to apply Western aesthetics and are they even meaningful in a Middle East context? Is the offence needed on a popular media level and what could be other, more powerful ways of communicating?

A meaningful conversation without answers and not seeking them. Al-Mahdi has given us her reaction to a very dangerous situation right now, be it a useful one or not. In discussing this, each comment kept adding aspects just as Mill asked us to bear in mind. Law and authority have no business in restraining our discussing, nor has abusive language, or in his own words: "(...) to restrain this employment of vituperative language".

Sarcasm has no place, nor has the stigmatization of the other, whatever opinion she or he may hold. What is needed, is the calmness to see and honesty to state, what one's opponents and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back, which is in their favour, the striving of which:

"This is the real morality of public discussion".

And this blog would not be this blog, unless it claimed the artistic merit with the non-abusiveness of tone of cartooning. Just this week Angel Boligán gave us the pain of racism, using the pointing finger, the godlike facelessness of power, accentuating how racism is an action. An active enterprise with an outcome directed at hurting human beings.

As beholders, Angel Boligán lets us get actively involved. The blood is squrting in our direction, while giving the hurt one a face, an identity. His face mirrors the words written in 1596/98:  "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" - back then too giving the exposed one his own voice. With a question mark for reflection.

Angel Boligán, EL RACISMO DE SIEMPRE, August 30, 2014.

The artwork shown is courtesy of Angel Boligán and must not be reproduced without his permission.

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