Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Do We Need Stereotypes?

Christoph Niemann with his example on how to
minimize the population of baby pandas.
Screenshot from his TEDtalk, August 2018.
"Every time a drawing like this is published, a baby panda will die", Christoph Niemann warned in his most recent TED Talk last month.

The stacking of pictorial elements such as the suit, the ladder and the dollar sign into an "And then... and then... and then...". All telling and no showing. It might as well have been written. There is a reason, why it is a safe blanket for editors, as Niemann points out, in that no one will notice the presence of the cartoon.

Niemann took a stand against what I call lazy cartooning and it is an important one, since this is what gives cartooning a bad name. I wish to take his words one step further and address the lazy way we talk about cartooning, i.e. the tired litany that cartooning runs on stereotypes.

When we speak of premises for composing a cartoon, we do not speak of a repertoire or even just motif the way we classify the workings of other art forms. Instead, we speak of stereotypes, which in its meaning comprises the form as well as its content. A stale idea from beginning to end from which arises nothing but a travesty: a mockery of all that is artistic creation and by thus intelligent life.

The life of lazy argumentation is made all the easier from the fact that cartooning uses figuration. Such as fish, bears and the Statue of Liberty. Well then, the line of argumentation seems to take, every time there is a bear, that is... seen before... But cartooning is not primarily about the seen before.

Cartooning is what it brings to the conversation with us, its beholders.

Riber Hansson, 2007.

The danger of even looking this bear into his eyes.

Before us - right above and below - are two of the most drawn symbols on power and freedom respectively. They come from each from their corner of the world and they each specify how their respective nations define themselves or are defined.

Let us speak of Ur-Stories.

Art forms have their Ur-Stories onto which every new artwork adds another layer. The two symbols before us are effective in that the one above contain a long story of killing fields, defeating both Napoleon and Hitler, because the latter ignored the lesson Napoleon was given. There is a myth to that power of something impossible to fully grasp however much we try.

Below is the Roman goddess Libertas in her best-known recent configuration as the giant in bronze correlating to the giant idea of freedom. Goddesses and what they personify along with the powerful animals are imagery on the grandest scale from the equally grand compositions of history painting once commissioned for palaces and later on for town halls and parliaments.

Here someone will immediately object that regal history painting is no longer relevant and there is a reason why. However, there will always be ample reason for the artist taking on history, as Aristotle confirmed. The artist creates something that we can encompass with our eyes. A dramatic mise en scène that encompasses all that has taken place and what is likely to happen from here on.

Aristotle gives us the fine-tuning explanation on what the cartoonist does when using figuration. The solidity before our eyes is based in abstraction. The artist selects the traits of our day and age and deducts from there what will reasonably take place. In the dramatic narrative that ensues, we see the characters how they are likely to speak or act.

We recognize the characters. We recognize their arguments. We recognize it all because this is our world; an observation that was true, when Aristotle wrote it just as it is today. We are part of what is taking place before us and we see it all come alive.

Portraiture is a key feature to the drama. In fact, a portrait can be so deftly composed that it encompasses it all. Riber Hansson has drawn a specific danger. The one that seeks to stifle truth and democracy alike. Putin is replacing the many voices of democracy to the one before us. His narrative only. He his challenging us, securing our gaze to let us know just how dangerous his game is. His file is just for show. He is his own weapon and his portraitist has undressed him to his fur.

There is a narrative to win back from the narrative of Putin and his lackeys around the world, one of which is orange. Siri Dokken has dissolved the Drumpf into orange gasses interspersed with willowy yellow. This is a composition on a juxtaposition that is no longer there. The bronze has been eaten from within and is now collapsing to one side, while the gasses are unraveling to the other. The only vertical line left is the IV stand. Liberty is nothing but a skull whose skin has dragged the ear down to one side. That is a badass detail of the most painful nature.

The eyes of the bronze has slit open to the despair beyond all despair.

It is not healthy looking into her eyes, just as it is not healthy looking into Putin's, but "We need to be involved in the argument if we are to have any chance of winning it", as Salman Rushdie wrote in the The New Yorker in May on the anti-truth times in which we live.

Our cartoonists have given us the punch in the stomach to do so.

Siri Dokken, August 23, 2018.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Siri Dokken and Riber Hansson and must not be reproduced without their permission.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Those Diabolical Caricatures

In this case not the ones on paper or the screen. The protesters against the regime in Nicaragua are caricatures of human life, according to Rosario Murillo, Vice-President and thus co-aggressor against those same protesters.

Between 322 and 481 are dead. Those numbers are already a week old. Add to this the thousands of wounded, not to mention the detained being tortured.

So the physical violence is backed by her verbal violence useful for creating a case for striking back at the protesters. They have been called every catchphrase within the domain of evildoers and nothings, such as vampires and menials. She then flung out cat skinners, as in persons of no significance socially and economically, having to eat cats to stay alive.

Pedro X. Molina drew her as a skinned cat:

Pedro X. Molina, "Skinned Cats!" September 11, 2018.

There may or may not have been a correlation, but the timeline makes it likely that it was in direct response to the cartoon above that she declared the population for caricatures.

If so, she was revealing herself that she had seen the cartoon above and that it hurt. It struck right as it was intended.

Pedro X. Molina, The Madness of the Empress, September 17, 2018.
"Caricature! You are all a caricature!!"
Her response was to forget her claim of being a poet and just throw caricature back out there in the No you are more! when children lack words.

Again she was drawn. This time she was a classical caricature, where the first one was an allegory on the political situation.

Each time in a 1:1 exposure to the beholder, facing us directly. Pedro X. Molina is working in a literal sense, giving her the shape and form of her own words.

This is how the noise screen of the responsible looks in visual form.

To paraphrase Molina, who said it so precisely himself: a caricature exaggerates a reality to make it more obvious. In the case of the protesters, it is their loyalty to their country and on the side of the oppressors their lunacy.

He exaggerated and he was SEEN.

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Pedro X. Molina: PLEASE SHARE THEM.

Rebels Needed

Serena Williams lost the finale of the US Open to Naomi Osaka a week ago. Since then we have had a number of cartoons showing her throwing a tantrum with the Mark Knight-one getting most of the attention.

We know the drill. It gets the pink skinned righters out of the woodwork shouting WHAT I AM DRAWING IS MY RIIIIIIIGHT!!!!!

It is.

Having the right to is not synonymous with cartooning worth its name, nor should it be for that matter. Let us instead turn to the matter of drawing the tantrum in that it involved three thick prejudices:

1. Women are hysterical
2. Women are hysterical and consequently not professional
3. African-American women are hysterical and consequently not professional

Cintia Bolio, Alice Rebelling, 2016.
Thick prejudice involves no thinking. The cartoonist just needs to scratch himself and they crawl out. Did he even draw her before and if not, did he wait until she fit into his image of the world? What was it to the story that made it worth drawing in the first place? Was this the vital angle to the story?

The real question in this situation was: Why was it painful to see the reaction of Serena Williams on the day?

It was her words drawing in implications, where they had no being.

Serena Williams happens to have an instrument in both areas of her life's work with the same outline. She has been a rebel on behalf of women and girls in sport as in life proving that change is possible. She has been breaking new ground, holding it high while batting right back at those opposing her work. She is inspiration and direct action in one for the new generations.

She will continue to be important with so much more to do and we know she will.

Khalid Albaih placed a cartoon on the social media intended for an upcoming publication in which she is at her highest. Her muscle tone is catching the highlight.

The difference between the actual situation and the cartoon caught that exact pain of the day.

That is drawing at her level.

She has been undaunted. She is a rebel daring to think anew, just as Alice in Wonderland steps right into that strange structure that is life to question every corner of it.

Khalid Wad Albai, September 11, 2018.

Representation is important, as Khalid affirmed.

Representation for the young to take inspiration from just as it is important in cartooning. What do you want from making your cartoon?

The cartoons shown are courtesy of Cintia Bolio and Khalid Albaih and must not be reproduced without their permission.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

What Can I Do?

- What can I do to make this world a better place? What can we do to help?

Three students came up to Khalid Albaih after his artist talk at his exhibition at Kulturværftet in Helsingør.

The day after Khalid was speaking at RUC, Roskilde University, upon which he received a message from one of the students naming it an "eye opening talk":

"It really touched me. It has certainly inspired me to try and make a difference in the world for people who have it much harder than myself, in instances that you demonstrated today"

And the message went on to specify:

"I must admit that I am guilty of dehumanising the experience of refugees, not consciously, but just because of how it is portrayed in the media like you said today. That is definitely something that I am going to actively change". 

This is it, such is the significance of cartooning at its best.

When at its best, it has means of changing our perception of the world and doing so to one person at a time. Cartooning at its best does the opposite of seducing and silencing the masses. Each of the beholders above was engaged and inspired to act.

Through the way they described their reaction, we learn how the cartoons by Khalid made a difference: Complex matters too difficult to take in, had been transformed into a graspable cluster before them of the what, how and why of an issue. They had gained information, which they described as gaining lucidity.

In art history we discuss seeing-in and seeing-as (as in recognizing or imagining something already known). This is seeing-through. Seeing through not in the sense of the cartoon having no value of its own, but in its creating translucency into something too massive or scary/sad to focus on. It is the meeting-point for a complex matter to be reflected upon and from which can emanate action.

 That is the recipe for change and the medium was the cartoon.

Khalid Albaih, The Perfect Arab Citizen, April 5, 2011.

And Khalid's answer to the young?

- Be present in your life. Do what you can in what is right before you.

As his equally fearless colleague Doaa Eladl answered at a conference earlier this year: You focus on the elephant. That is an excuse for doing nothing. Focus on each step at a time.

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