"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!"

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