Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Festive Danger

The ducks have had their portrait taken. With one arm poised on the ever supportive traffic bollard that is here starring in the role one of those fake broken columns from Antiquity from back when photography was new.

The photo comes framed. As it happens in the life of a modern duck, it never gets to define which frame. Happy Holidays!

Jørn Villumsen, Wonderful Christmas/God jul, 2014.

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

Sunday, 21 December 2014

"Hey, if I can be of any help"

Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889), Cat and Mouse.

The present blog post was intended to juggle with the notion of anthropomorphized animals. After all there is a plethora on them on this blog - cats, ducks, a pig and not least teddy bears, to mention some of the most notable.

There have been humanoid satirizing animals in art for at least 4000 years. The preserved ones from history are Egyptian as they are from Japan. And then we have Willis of today.

Nadia Khiari, WillisfromTunis, December 1, 2014.
Kasserine: One soldier killed, another injured in a mine explosion.
Le Kef: One police officer beheaded.
- Vote Beji! / No! Vote Marzouki
- You take which one? The one to the right or to the left?
- It's all the same to me.

Choju-jinbutsu-giga, 12th/13th century,
Kyoto National Museum.
It is each time a marvel to dive into nearly a 1000 years old drawings and recognize their simple, clear outline of animals mocking, critizing and turning over social mores and political stanzes. Most of the time with a strict economy of line; form defined by outline with no need for shadowing nor color. Created by artists belonging to an elite, who saw through the mannerisms and power plays of their day.

Those are all words, which fit the drawings by Nadia Khiari like a glove. And yet, she works in quite another strand too. There is a directness in her work that is her very objective, which was the whole point of playing about in the earlier examples. 

Her predecessors all contain a narrative, a fable or an parable. Consequently, they have no words nor any need for them. The story was already alive when they were drawn, even if we are left at guessing it today. We shall return to the words, but before that we can easily detect that she includes but one species of animal. Interestingly, the only time she made use of another animal, they were the mice of the very first drawing on Willis and in which he took on the role of Ben Ali. 

The intention was obvious. The mice was only there for their naïvety, they were the noise screen for the actual intent of their predator, who knew exactly how to play them. For the very same reason the cat kept talking from then on. He was the testing figure if it was possible to create a voice outside the dictator, to create words, formulating standpoints that had not had any reality in that they had not been said till then.

To this end she chose the closest animal at hand, her own cat. He was less of a symbol than a reality from end to end: A test of what was real and what could be made into a reality. And then he took on a life on his own, creating a space for testing each step since January 13, 2011. He is foremost recognizable as a cat for his claws; the drawn ones and in the line of his spoken mind. He is cutting in all senses of the word.

Takeuchi Seiho (1864-1942) Drunken Frenzy, 1924.

At one point Nadia Khiari was asked, why she did not draw critically long before Ben Ali fled the country?

- that is very much a Western question. When the dictator has jumped the plane, the journey to democracy has only just taken off and Willis is not merely a figure of pro or con. He began testing the promise of the free word and is now tasting the words that emerge. "Hey, if I can be of any help" as Nadia Khiari wrote, when she posted the drawing below on the second round of the presidential election, giving it the title Social Suicide:

Nadia Khiari, WillisFromTunis, December 15, 2014:
How is one to deal with the Pro-Essebsi and the Pro-Marzouki?
- How come you don't love our Bajbouj?
- I love neither of them!
- It will be a return to dictatorshop and violence without Marzouki!
- Traitor!

Oh, and we have been given a promise this evening: 

"On January 13, 2011 Ben Ali gave a speech and WillisFromTunis appeared. If bajbouj makes a speech this evening, tomorrow we shall have a Pittbull From Kaboul!"

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Evening came on, the last evening of the year

Hans Christian Andersen. Bob Katzenelson asked me to credit Hans Christian as the author of course of The Little Match Girl. She had not sold a match all day and was dreaming herself away while igniting the very items she was supposed to sell. At the dawn of the new year she was found frozen to death in a corner formed by two houses.

She is of a long tradition of round-eyed children, whose lack of the most basic needs in life awakens our do-good-insistency at that one time of the year. Bob has added the very layer of danger to that equation reaching out from our own angle: the helping hands.

Those two are the very reason we had a social reform in Denmark in 1933, a constitutional infrastructure securing basic social security and rights for everyone. Philantropy is a dangerous business to the destitutes. There is no mercy, if the wrong hands get to you. The pointing hand and the grapping one, both carefully gloved.

Poverty is indeed the worst form of violence.

Bob Katznelson, Ice cold calculation. Homeless people are in high demand in December. 
It provides you with a better social profile helping those who are vulnerable.
December 12, 2014:

- I saw her first!
- No, I did!

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

Monday, 15 December 2014

"We were perfect"

Khalid Wad Albalbaihih, The Perfect Arab Citizen. Still from the EURO-ARAB Dialogue Forum.

- was the first image shown when Khalid Wad Albaih spoke at the EURO-ARAB Dialogue Forum on November 27, arranged by the Lutfia Rabbani Foundation. He was accompanied by the musician Zid al Tayem.

What strikes one when seeing his drawings from 2011 - just one of those shown in this blogpost are from 2014 -  is the stringency of Khalid's iconography to a degree that his cartoons refer to each other in pairs. The earliest ones have a counterpart drawn at a later date; the former defining the problem at hand, while the latter is reflecting on outcomes and future possibilities.

And yet both of them are barely there.
Khalid Wad Albaih, Oppression, Revolution, Reforms. 
Still from the EURO-ARAB Dialogue Forum

In aesthetic terms Khalid Wad Albaih is a minimalist, although on its own that term is by now so generic that I would rather stress his analytic aesthetics, which fittingly is a philosophical discipline. Each cartoon from his hand is an investigation into what an image can. How it is never a solid, but sets up a traffic point for exchange.

Such as creating visibility of non-presence. The trinity of "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" is here contourless, consisting of black filler that bares the gagging. The knots keeping the pieces of cloth tight are the main features of the cartoon. They are the epitomes of figures of no importance. Perfect according to a certain intention, as it were.

And then half a year later, when nothingness had defined itself as being under "oppression" and "revolution" had been attempted, the mouth opened with the body in movement for the first time, "reforms" turned out to be the outcome. With a nice ring to it and in the plural, only we see all too well the reality of them.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Tunis Revolution, January 25. 2011.

None of his figures confront us. They all look away. There is no shock effect; as beholders we are being led along the picture plane to partake in the analysis, he is laying out to us. The unravelling octopus, drawn on the very date when the Tunisian protests spread to Egypt, while the reason it was made possible is seen below. It was as clear as math, as Khalid states in his lecture:

Khalid Wad Albaih, The Winning Equation of the 2011 Arab Revolution,
February 23, 2011.

Symbols or imagery not just known, but the two of them are known only now. Their history is as long as the Arab Spring more or less. The emergence of social media made the uprisings possible and this is thus the very formula of why and how. Each symbol has a seemingly solid visual presence, but by being placed in the equation, they are perceived as symbols of opening and of reaching beyond as new places for interaction.

And so the dictators have their portraits made as stenciled graffiti as seen through the eyes of those lining them up:

Khalid Wad Albaih, The Arab Spring PacMan, June 15, 2011.

Khalid Wad Albaih has even given the Arab Spring its very own specific piece of imagery. It is a play on a word, it is in movement, and it employs the left fisted hand that has been the symbol of revolution since 1968/69. 

It employs all three of W.J.T. Mitchell's basic classifications on the relationship of words and imagery. It is at once disjunctive, a rupture playing with us, as it is a relation, grasped as a conjunction, and since the spring implies energetic movement to create a difference, we see a synthetic identification of visual and verbal codes. 

The real question is after all not the difference between word and image, as Mitchell continues, but how it matters. What does it matter that they are juxtaposed, blended or separated? In this case it is the very playing against each other that creates the cartoon. The spring is not the one thing and it is certainly not a given one; it is an insistence, unfolding the energy to instigate, constantly evolving, but with no promises of solutions as revolutions tends to go. There is always the risk of its bouncing back. 

Khalid Wad Albaih, The Arab Spring on the Rise, October 6, 2011.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Egypt Sentences More than 680 People to Death,
May 1, 2014. Published for Muftah Magazine.

And so the cartoon of now, when history gets juxtaposed with the noose. A pure formalistic take, which happens to reverse its significance from one of eternal life to one of willed death.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Almost There...
This is for all the Dictators, your time is near...
September 13, 2011.

This is a tale of no closure, no completion. Albeit that already implies drawing a conclusion, in that the revolution may seem a lost case in most places, but with the insistence that a revolution does not happen overnight. It is an ongoing process with the "thou must"-finger of recycling for inspiration.

"What keeps you hopeful?" Khalid was asked after his lecture.

"We have nothing else" was his answer.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Recycle the Revolution, November 21, 2011.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Khalid Wad Albaih and must not be reproduced without his permission. The ones shown and so much more of his work can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/KhalidAlbaih.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

On Humility and Respect

It was recently discovered that a painting by Christen Købke at our National Gallery believed to depict a summer's evening in sunny Copenhagen 1838 was originally bathed in broad daylight. This as the result of artificial colors changing over time. Copenhagen at sundown is easily recognized by the surface of the central lakes turning red, so till now the interpretation had seemed natural.

There is but one thing to say:

The museum guests knew all along.

They detected the discrepancies, how the sun was to be seen there, which was far from being its correct position from this angle at evening and the shadows did not make any sense either. I could only add that Købke did not finish his greater works in situ. Sketches were transformed onto a larger canvasback in his studio and he may very well have mixed up what was supposed to be where at what time.

I learned that the two most important ingredients in art history are respect and humility.

Respect and humility to the artwork as well as its beholder. Regarding the museum guests, they enter with a world of knowledge which they bring into play while seeing these strange items. They object, they question, they identify and more often than not they discuss heatedly.

To sum up, the only colorless ones are the art historians. It is all too easy to be caught up in a juicy theory on the meaning of an artwork, not far from discovering the meaning of life, it seems. At the risk of ignoring what is actually there in front of us.

Per Marquard Otzen, And they were left colorless, December 10, 2014.

Such as the sculptures of Antiquity being painted.

It has been known since 1824.

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

Sunday, 7 December 2014

"In a country, which does not respect its citizens..."

Khalid Gueddar, A Government Without Dignity, November 26, 2014.

DIGNITY. The very notion from which the Syrian revolutionaries have not swayed a second as their objective. While the notion of freedom may be vast and vague, dignity states what freedom entails. 

Khalid Gueddar, "In a country, which does not respect its citizens...", 
November 25, 2014.

A dignified life is one of doing as opposed to being done to. A life of taking responsibility, of deciding for oneself. To show respect and being shown respect.

A government without dignity is thus known by its creating garbage of its people and so the Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane is busy shoving away the dead; at once practicing the policy of the gutter, while forgetting his own claim to Islam how the deceased are entitled to his respect.

The latter are drawn with respect by Khalid Gueddar on the other hand. Their faces remain hidden and yet each body is clearly outlined; they do not dissolve into one another in spite of being thrown about. To all sides of them Benkirane is in constant movement. He has taken the action upon him, being the one who acts on behalf of everybody else; the embodiment of living and dying in indignity.

Still, Benkirane is but the clown. He is a performer in the public sphere serving to direct the interest away from those actually in power, as Khalid Gueddar has explained and he continued: The arrival of the Islamists onto the scene, of which Benikirane is one, has thus changed nothing. They are not the ones in power, they are not free themselves.
Khalid Gueddar, detail from
Le calife qui ne veut plus être roi

And so, a Benkirane in movement is nothing much compared to Mohamed VI as the kamikaze protagonist in the comics on the caliph who no longer wants to be king by Khalid Gueddar. Each comics page ends in his having to leave a party or water-skiing to do paperwork and screaming his head off on everybody and everything that he has had it, he will no longer be king. The comics setup dissolving any thought of a rationale behind the actions taken from the royal house creates an all the stronger impact by drawing a taboo in the first place. The constitutiton states that the king is "sacred and inviolable" and as a consequence he is off limit cartooningwise. Only, the serial published by French Bakchich was read in, but could not be controlled in Marocco: 

Khalid Gueddar, Prince Moulay Ismaïl, September 25, 2009.
The interview above by Bakchich was made in the spring 2009. Half a year later Khalid Gueddar drew a cousin of the king, Prince Moulay Ismaïl on his wedding day for the daily Akhbar al-Youm. The counteraction was prompt. Khalid Gueddar and his editor was arrested and subjected to a marathon interrogation, as he was to call it. The building that housed the daily was sealed off.

A month later Khalid Gueddar was sentenced to four years in prison; One year for drawing the Moroccan flag and three for drawing the prince. The sentence was conditional. The closing of Akhbar al-Youm was upheld.

Khalid Gueddar recalled afterwards having been interrogated by 11 persons upon his arrest, "including agents of the (intelligence agency, LCL) DST, who had no right to be there with the agents of the Judicial Police". 80% of their questions had centered on Bakchichunderlining that their interest in his drawings were not of a recent date. This particular drawing was their chance to strike back and to make a case of it. It was stipulated that the waving prince had been depicted doing a Nazi greeting while the flag was anti-Semitic in that it appeared to have a six-pointed rather than the correct five-pointed star.

Upon his arrest Khalid Gueddar was made to redraw the star in the attempt to erode his own explanation how since the full star cannot be seen, a six-pointed situation has not taken place. It was insisted that he should redo certain details such as the shape of the hood of the hijab and his fez that would be hiding the remaining section of the star. 

Actually, the star of the Moroccan flag was six-pointed until 1915. Furthermore the issue of color was not taken into consideration. "The officials who confused the Moroccan green star with the blue symbol of Judaism has poor eyesight" as Khalid Gueddar expressed to El Pais at the time. 

Most of all it is a strange situation, as he stated in another interview that the offense against the prince is considered to be more serious than a offense to the flag of 30 millions Moroccans. He has since continued to apply the flag turned against the people as a symbol of their oppressors. 

Khalid Gueddar: Report: More than 150,000 Moroccans Live Like Slaves...
November 20, 2014.

Since January 2011 Morocco has eased in changes and much has been bettered. But there is a long way to go and old authoritarian habits die late.

This is a story of dancing to and fro. Of the cartoonist speaking up in clear lines and the authorities striking back; they on the other hand mumbling, waiting to find the right moment when an explanation can be found that will not embarrass themselves, something that may actually sound plausible if we do not look to carefully. When the light is directed at them, though, certain shadows will emerge.

A story known all too well, and so I cannot help including a drawing with a very special piece of new iconography. This one has a predecessor in the crucified man, but the Abu Ghraib-photos of abuse were instantly grasped across continents as a common visual denominator of the violation of human rights. As fellow humans we were all debased in Abu Ghraib and this is us every time in the shadow of shame:

Khalid Gueddar, Amnesty International Reveals the Torture in Morocco!!
 June 27, 2014.

There is a specific reason for taking up the mumbling and the shadows. A conditioned sentence is certainly a way of telling a cartoonist to keep a low profile and in case he should forget there is furthermore the possibility of an application to appeal from the prosecution.  Khalid Gueddar has now been summoned to an appeal court for the FIFTH time for the very same drawing.

Khalid Gueddar, The Gate to Debating is Open to Benkiki...!!
June 11, 2014.

It seems the focus this time will be on the flag. We shall know more on January 22, 2015. 

The final word belongs to Khalid Gueddar: "I have never regretted a caricature. Before making this cartoon, I was very aware of what I was doing. I do not regret any caricature, even that of Moulay Ismaïl. I take it upon me. Before you draw, you have to be convinced by the idea and the subject. A caricature is my opinion on a subject, I cannot have qualms about it".

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

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