Monday, 27 April 2015

Drawn In and Lead On

When I first saw the poster that Per Arnoldi made for the 300th anniversary of The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg it struck me how deftly he incorporates the beholder into his poster compositions.

A poster is a composed surface not unlike the front of a house and although the poster theorists have a long history of sighing whenever art history is brought into the discussion, let us paraphrase the thoughts of Vilhelm Wanscher on the matter. Wanscher earned himself a big black line across his life's work as an art historian and artist, when he found an affiliate on the love of all things grand in the Fascists of the 1930's. That said, when I reluctantly read his treatise on aesthetics from 1906, I found descriptions of architecture, which were useful in describing the posters of Valdemar Andersen too and seem no less interesting recapitulating here as well:

I noticed how Wanscher's aesthetics are based on verbs. Verbs on movement within the artwork such as an architectural wall, which "leads" our gaze, directing it onto the one element, which in turn acts to "bind" our gaze and "carry" it on to the next one. The true artwork distributes its equilibrium within its own surface and can be recognized by letting the eye travel horizontally and vertically with no need to enforce a connection to the world beyond.

Wanscher formulated what he called a grammar on the value of the simple effects. Which more than sounds like the poster we have before us. Our meeting with the picture plane is vertical of nature, reaching it somewhere in the middle of the Alexander Column marking the entrance to the Museum. The column before us has no base, though, or rather the most solid base of all, emerging from a haze of times immemorial of the first of humankind onto which is build a torch carried by the Hermitage Museum for its first 300 years that will be kept aflame long after we are gone.

There is no need for evoking a memory of a Matisse here or a Fabergé there, seeing bits and pieces of grandest artworks ever done within the walls of the Museum. It is all there before us. This is what a museum is, uniting time and space. And we are there somewhere in the middle, setting in motion the effect of before and after, past and future by our gazing.

The poster will take part of that future itself among the Matisses and Fabergés of the permanent collection of the Museum:

Per Arnoldi, The Hermitage Museum 250 Years, 2014.

The poster shown is courtesy of Per Arnoldi and must not be reproduced without his permission.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

A Ballet on Genocidal Intent

We have already seen Vrej Kassouny's personification of the Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide. This time The Denial is in the plural and caught with a smoking gun metaphorically speaking:

Vrej Kassouny, April 22, 2015:
"No It Was Not a Genocide "- Ban Ki-Moon's "Historical" Declaration.
- please click the photo for the full detailing.

A ballet on genocidal intent.

Acrobatics on words not least on the part of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Evading all talk of intention, the Secretary General has spoken of "tragic events", which is as generic a characterization as characterizations go. Kassouny consequently equals words with deeds indeed the words are deeds, linking Ban Ki-Moon directly to what took place in 1915. Even his suit reflects the spluttering.

In 1917 the Interior Minister of the Ottoman Empire Mustafa Arif admitted that his predecessors had "carried out the law on deportation to exterminate the Armenians". Documentation thus exists on the Turkish side acknowledging what had taken place, as quoted recently by Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson, while representing Armenia at the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) in Strasbourg.

The term genocide had not yet been invented, but genocide is defined by the intent, not the method with which it is carried out, as Geoffrey Robertson made manifest. The destruction was not so much of property, which explains the lack of visual evidence, but lies in the fact that the Armenians knew they were not coming back. They knew they were targeted, being declared unfit to live.

Vrej Kassouny, January 19, 2015:
I won't stop being Hrant...
While the Secretary General is all excuses,
Hrant Dink is confrontational manifesting his right to exist and to speak
 - drawn upon a photo on the demonstrations following his murder

The specific case in the ECHR just as the marking of the anniversary of the genocide is not directed against the freedom of expression. As the legal team representing the Armenians underlined, it is not in the Armenians own interest to criminalize speech too widely, or they too might be caught in the net "as the family of Hrant Dink knows only too well". He was murdered when insisting on this right to speak up, including the right to say: Genocide.

The cartoon shown is courtesy of Vrej Kassouny and must not be reproduced without his permission. His art can be seen here.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

"The future belongs...

... to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams"

Words by Eleanor Roosevelt, who set an example herself while striving to make the world our mutual responsibility. Literature is laden with words on following one's dream and how only the noblest and strongest dare try giving it reality.

Each of the drowned in The Mediterranean listened to and acted upon their dreaming, not as numbers, but as individuals.

Bob Katzenelson, Navigating by the stars, April 22, 2015.

In both drawings the sea is calm. There is no noise, no outer movement.

We as beholders look with him over his shoulders above, drawn in by the light of the stars, distorted in the reflection of the water. 

And below we look at him, having forgotten the meaning of loving thy neighbor.

Khalid Wad Albaih, Untitled, April 22, 2015.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of their artists and must not be reproduced without their permission.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A Case of Speaking Up

"Political cartooning is a negative art form. Cartoonists and columnists work best when bashing hypocrites or speaking to issues where opinion is divided".

- as Daryl Cagle wrote in 2007 on the Virginia Tech massacre, when or whether it is appropriate to draw after the fact of it. While I very much appreciate his thoughts on the when or the whether, I was provoked by the classification of negativity at play. Is it not (politely done on his part) a belittling of the art form, what it does and why it so does?

For one thing, criticizing has more to it than a censuring pointing finger. Etymologically speaking critique means making a judgment through taking things apart and that is very much what a cartoon does.

Taking apart so as to see other aspects of the persons and actions involved. Case in point, this is a cartoon, which has been circulated since 2012, when the killings in Syria had already been far too many. Children were being murdered by the Assad-regime in far greater numbers, but in principle not unlike the Virginia Tech in that this should never take place. Only, in the Syrian instance the murdered are being photographed to document the atrocities. Juan Zero too shows us children wrapped for burial. But wrapped in bright colors, shimmering as if they were candy. The bright happiness that a childhood ought to be.

In other words: Into the one drawing the cartoonist has managed to combine the "is" and "ought", the reality and the goal to work for, while not falling prey to Hume's guillotine of pretending to describe while actually just making his opinion known. And not only that, Juan Zero manages to let both verbs remain active, playing them out against each other as reflections of the problem at hand.

Personally I have a special weakness for the emphases in the text done precisely the way Valdemar Andersen would have drawn up a poster a 100 years ago to catch our attention. Which of course goes to underline that a cartoon just as a poster is never pretending to be a final word; it is a case of speaking up:

Juan Zero, from the series Free Syria 1, May 23, 2012.

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

Monday, 20 April 2015

Balance, Tension and Integration

This was the first drawing I saw from Fadi Abou Hassan.

In its first version the refugee is reaching for the sun, and sadly it is just as difficult to reach Europe. The Mediterranean is implicitly there. The arm is at once personifying the preparedness to go to inhuman lengths to reach safety and the obstacles trying to get there.

In cartoon art the formal aesthetic termini have a political side to them, twisting the ideals to engage our eyes. Termini such as balance, the tension between each of the parts that constitutes the composition, and the integration of the picture plane as a whole. The exaggeration before us tells us a story, at once personal and all-encompassing.

Told through the means of tipping the balance, tension there is indeed, while striving for, but not quite reaching integration.

Fadi Abou Hassan, European Dream, 2013.

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

Thursday, 16 April 2015

"I Remember and Demand"

Vrej Kassouny, December 22, 2011.
Therapist: "Ok... Let's go back about... 100 years... What do you see?"
Turkey: "NOOOOOO".

"... On the road we saw dead bodies and skeletons of at least a 100 people, it was terrible to see how the bones lay scattered on the road and in the ditches and in the fields, in several places they were plowing the ground and thus spreading the bones and skeletons all over the fields [...] when I think of how those poor wretches have siblings and parents like we do and who love them, it is so hard to imagine them killed in such a cruel manner and then left upon the ground to be eaten by dogs and wolves. It could be my father, mother or little sister".

The words above were written by Maria Jacobsen, a nurse and missionary, who kept a secret diary describing the Armenian Genocide in 1915 at first hand. Photo documentation of what she described and sadly much more can be found here. The genocide was initiated on April 24 1915, when intellectuals of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire were arrested and executed. Having removed the elite, the rest of the Armenian population, women, children and the elderly were driven from their homes on death marches. Between one and one and a half millions are estimated to have been killed.

Vrej Kassouny, 2005.
1915+2015 = 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide
- Diaspora + Armenia = United

The international reaction was prompt and unanimous in regarding the massacre as being systematical of nature. Concerning the reaction I have seen the strength of it one generation earlier 1894/96 when a similar massacre on the Armenians, possibly a prequel to the 1915-genocide took place. I have written a book on the Danish museum-founder Johannes Hage, who was one of many in Europe, and it was a treat reading the old documents how passionately insistent they were on creating petitions and sharing articles across the continent to make the situation known and organize help.

That was part of the problem, though, in that the Armenian population was oriented towards Europe and taking an interest in democracy at a time when the multicultural Ottoman Empire was crumpling and eventually overthrown in 1913 when a military coup took place, leading to a nationalist military regime.

Vrej Kassouny. Erdogan's "Democratic Model" for Arabs? February 23, 2012.
- Use my model!
- Haven't we been using it for 400 years now?
Drawn one year into the Arab Spring, Aleppo is to be seen in the background.

That regime is not the state we know today as Turkey.

Nevertheless the Turkish authorities do everything they can to deny that genocide took place. It is claimed to be a matter of definition and a matter for the historians only.

Vrej Kassouny, Sarkozy vs. Erdogan, February 1, 2012.
-Hey! Did you just... SLAP ME?
- It was a Minute ago!!! Leave it to the Historians...

Rather than genocide, it was a civil war, as the Turkish authorities of today are claiming, with losses on all sides. The reason of this is as usual the fear of having to grant the Armenians land and compensation. And besides, there is no pride for the history books in having committed a crime against humankind.

This is where the cartoonist steps in, giving the denying a visual presence. Vrej Kassouny not so much draws the bloodshed. The genocide is a fact. Instead he has focused on the dance to avoid recognizing that very fact.

Erdogan dances on soft, shaky legs around the red mark stamped upon him. The denying has a threat implied, a readiness to twist anything, which in the visual context only goes to prove the first problem. Consequently Erdogan makes even the one slamming down on the Arab Spring feel ill at ease.

Kassouny has to boot personified The Denial as a traditionally clad Turk, laying before us how The Denial is an active standpoint with implications for the present day too when acting to obscure and threaten. The Denial is magnificently drawn as a cliché not being able to release himself from the past, eventually making himself a culpable party.

Vrej Kassouny, February 9, 2012.
Martin Schultz and (the then chief Turkish negotiator on accession to the EU) Egemen Bagis:
History vs. Axe:
- Accept your History
- Shall I... ?

Ultimately he has brought it upon himself, having the centennial pin of the forget-me-not: "I Remember and Demand" fixed upon him by the legal team lead by Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson, while representing Armenia at the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) in Strasbourg. Amal Clooney is a statue of what shall not be hidden with even her robes moving as if the folds are carved in stone compared to the wreck that is The Denial. He was attempting to remove the field of flowers; instead the symbols of the Turkish flag are substituted by the lethal knife and the forget-me-not.

Vrej Kassouny, February 8, 2015.
Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson vs. Turkish Denial of the Armenian Genocide!
24. April 1915 - 2015 - NEVER FORGET!

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Vrej Kassouny and must not be reproduced without his permission. His art can be seen here.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

We the Rakyat

Zunar, October 19, 2014.
The Rakyat Jelata, i.e. the common people, has been thrown the fishbone
of 1Malaysia, a program designated to unify the country.
PERMATA is an organization meant to promote education and care.

- Only We the People of Malaysia tend to be tiny and thin with all too big, burdened eyes.

Zunar, November 3, 2014.

They are all the more burdened in the drawings by Zunar (Zulkiflee Anwar Haque) since creating a united Malaysia is the official speak of the government lead by the Prime Minister Najib Razak.

He is at times to be found within the massive hairdo of his wife Rosmah Mansor. Apart from her hair she can in turn be recognized by a sparkly 30+ carats diamond ring. She is in other words a massive persona, against whom everyone has to adapt, and the obliteration of her husband's shoulder on the drawing above is but a small indication of what her massiveness represents.

Zunar, March 8, 2015.

Obviously she embodies the malpractice of the running of the public economical affairs. Add to that the abuse of power in areas such as the judiciary system. In February the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was given a five year-sentence for alleged sodomy. He is in other words conveniently out of the way before the next elections.

Zunar creates broad contoured planes with which he accentuates expression rather than personal features. Above Anwar Ibrahim for instance has an eyebrow carved out while the face of the marionetted judge is all sad lines placed in downward layers.

Zunar, November 1, 2014.

Speaking of marionettes, I had to include this one. The utter beauty of the legal system is sadly for show only. The Prime Minister can be recognized in Zunar's cartoons, by the way, by his antithesis of a nose.
Zunar, April 1, 2015.
The Prime Minister Najib Razak is yelling in the background that they are safe,
in that the police concentrates on Zunar's tweets, ignoring investigating corruption.
The bags are strutting from the briberies gained from a purchase of submarines.

The dubious nature of the sodomy ruling was highlighted when everyone daring to question it was brought to trial him- or herself. The counsel of Anwar Ibrahim was one. Zunar another. He wrote nine tweets on the eve of the trial on February 10.

Zunar is now charged under the Sedition Act.

Zunar, February 15, 2015.
- Bird in a cage?
- No, (the Inspector-General of Police) Khalid Abu Bakar
Abu Bakar is infamous for mass arrests of politicians and social activists.

Sedition as in rebellion, promoting feelings, which may lead to discontent and ultimately cause ruptures in society.

Zunar, September 10, 2014.
Zunar's tweeting was treated as nine separate transactions. Which is a maneuver, which has not been done before, and in the words of his counsel it is done in the "most ridiculous fashion" considering that the charges are hurled together, but bailed separately. Each of them may cost him 3-5 years in prison if he is found guilty. All in all Zunar could be faced with 43 years of imprisonment.

43 years.

All the while the question running through Zunar's work has been that of who is actually driving the society apart.

Zunar, April 3, 2015.

Above Zunar's whole body constitutes an interview, condensing what he has been stating for the past years that with talent comes responsibility: "How can I be neutral? Even my pen has a stand!". If convicted he shall no longer be able to talk, all the more so from being busy drawing Rosmah Mansor, who in turn is retranslating the acronym of the consumption tax GST into "give nine counts".

Zunar, February 27, 2015.
- Vision 2020, ha! ha!

Zunar is in need of all the pressure internationally that can possibly be put on the Malaysian government. Otherwise he shall be joining Anwar Ibrahim as the Vision of 2020 according to the golf-playing Prime Minister.

He asks anyone to share his drawings to let his situation and with him his countrymen be known or - as he underlines - you will convicted under the Act Cartoon Zunar 1911 that whoever does not share his cartoons on the social media will be accused of sedition and sentenced to drink ink.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Un-Contoured Speaking Up

Blood is actively being spilled in the Yarmouk Camp, and blood is actively shooting out. This is not blood not calling for innocence. This is peace speaking for itself, reaching beyond not just for the murdered.

Fadi Abou Hassan has combined the painterly texture of the uncontoured red with the figurative elements of the dove and barbed wire. Note the discreet greying of the lowest of the barbed wires to underline that we are all caught up in it.

Fadi Abou Hassan, Yarmouk Camp, April 8, 2015.

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

Monday, 6 April 2015

The Bastards of IS Present:

It is one thing being portrayed as a child eater; at heart, though, the Daesh/IS are a bunch of poster girls.

They perform in carefully staged videos, in which they make certain they are at the center of attention. Consequently (Hervé) BAUDRY has taken the natural step of transforming their banner into the film poster it rightfully is.

This is the Shahada (i.e. the Islamic creed) according to the Daesh. Their destroying what went before us is after all done with a blaspheming insistence.

BAUDRY, Horror movie, February 27, 2015.
The Bastards of IS present:
Night at the museum.

The cartoon shown is courtesy of BAUDRY and must not be reproduced without his permission. His works can be seen here:

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