Monday, 31 March 2014

"Your turn, Cartoonist"

The journalist and Middle East-specialist, who has been an advocate for taking action for Syria since the very beginning, Anders Jerichow, said something very thought-provoking the other day:

- Have we lost our sense of empathy?

By "we" he meant the old democracies and not least the level of debate within Denmark itself. Are we feeling so safe that we have forgotten to take an interest in those, who are in trouble?

Empathy as the ability to transgress one's own mental boundaries, creating the possibility of a common ground for understanding. Previous generations have passed on the insight of worse times, ensuring a memory living on, even when not directly experienced. But the remembrance of it disappears when it is no longer felt necessary.

The family of my paternal grandfather firmly believed that every second generation would lose their lives on the battlefield forcing the next generation to start all over again. Only in turn to see their children lose their lives in the next war. They were French-Alsatians and lived in the European version of the Middle East-conflict.

It made a strong impact on me when my Uncle told me how my great-great-great-grandmother was among the women struggling across the battlefield after the French-German war in 1870/71 looking for their men, hoping in a way not to find them among the fallen. The women themselves were starving, looking for anything to eat, with the rotting horses right in front of them. Only that in itself posed a danger to them. Being allowed to eat horse-meat or refraining from it would expose immediately to the other women, which side they were on.

We would not wish this for anyone, but if being in a safe place has left us unable to take part even in mind on the situation of others, then we have lost, not gained. The Iranian exiled cartoonist Mana Neyestani has reflected this through the archetype of suffering. Anyone who has witnessed a loved and dear one fight for his or her life recognize the strength, the anger and the will to survive, and the ultimate pain of it not being possible:

Mana Neyestani: The Gospel According to Facebook,
March 17, 2014.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Confrontation: "To face in defiance or hostility"

The very idea of a picture plane is a confrontation with its beholder. And if the picture plane happens to strike first, it has every chance of winning the encounter. Case in point:

Nadia Khiari: WillisFromTunis, October 15, 2011.
"Yesterday on Friday, October 14, Tunisia celebrated World Mental Health Day!"
- Stop laughing, you biiitch!

Willis wins hands down every time. His insolence blocks our view, while his voice is embodied in the firm certainty of the line, throwing exclamation marks at us. The latter is even build into his favorite insolence of all with the three added i's.

Willis is the epitome of how everyone began talking and was talking incessantly after the revolution, as Nadia Khiari has emphasized. He has lately had a French alter ego. "The neo-modern expression of exasperation" according Le Bonjour Tristesse himself, whose confrontational monologues takes on the outraged character, that insane uncle, we have all had, using the rage as an excuse for speaking at lightning speed. Pictorially he undresses French culture by each time including one or two clichés. This is his latest outrage, mes copains:

- this time he actually nearly ran out of breath

In Danish he would be called a Jeronimus, the character, who was given a voice by Ludvig Holberg in the play Mascarade in 1724, and in the early 20th century set to music by Carl Nielsen. In the vein of Pantalone, a Jeronimus is the constantly complaining grump, who whines for the times, when there was no tea, no chocolate, no coffee companies, and certainly not the masquerades. Peace is no more, as he sings, concluded with aching emphasis in Danish on the double f's of Freden er forbi. Because the worst has taken place, in the masquerade...

All are equal!

Democratic ideas are by their very definition near impossible to depict, so the voice of exasperation, the outraged and the bully with each their simplifications at hand verbalize the positive undercurrents, giving them visibility. Another case in point this time with full view all the way to his uvula:

The Fatwa of the Day according to Yahia Boulahia:
"Tunisia adopts its new Constitution"
- The Constitution of Shame.
You turn your back on the Divine Book for a rag written by humans.

He is no longer the slick Self-Righteous he used to be. He is all saliva and sweat, not to mention his shiny forehead. Too much equality ahead?

Even so, the new constitution still leaves much to be desired. Censorship is not a thing of the past, and so there are times, when silence becomes a very direct comment, this one is from Willis' first months of existence:

Nadia Khiari, WillisFromTunis, April 19, 2011.
The reason for Willis' silence these past days:
- When I have nothing interesting to say, I keep my mouth shut!

Since the word here is confrontation, let us not relax the level now and so in giving the final words to Le Bonjour Tristesse:

Une bonne semaine de merde à vous!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Cartooning: The Art of Danger

Kianoush Ramezani: Cartooning; The Art of Danger in IRAN, March 16, 2014.

Last night Kianoush Ramezani gave a TEDx Talk in The Hague unfolding his definition of the cartoonist as an activist. The cartoonist is an observer of society, who explains and expresses his or her opinions freely. Kianoush knows only too well from his own life when that is not the case, which he tells of here - adding the need to guarantee the safety of the cartoonist after the fact too, after his or her having spoken out:

Friday, 14 March 2014

Action versus Reaction

"One thing I don't like about professional cartooning is to follow the news, to wait for the crisis to react! A cartoonist must observe and "act", not just "react". A cartoonist is supposed to be an Activist in the society, not just the illustrator of the world's stupid news!"

Kianoush Ramezani, gravure of older drawing 2010-12 for the exhibition
 Paper to Plate, Plate to Press, Press to Paper - Deja Vu, March 2013.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

"I wipe away the line"

What a treat to be in the company of Hans Bendix' drawings once again. Busy weeks making the final preparations for a book on the cartoonist Hans Bendix and his anti-nazi cartoons 1933-40, sending off the chapters to my publisher with not much time for anything else. 

Tarek Alghorani introduced me to the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, and these days I keep returning to his words:

"I conquer the world with words,
conquer the mother tongue,verbs,
nouns, syntax.
I sweep away the beginning of things
and with a new language
that has the music of water the message of fire
I light the coming age
and stop time in your eyes
and wipe away the line that separates
time from this single moment."

Not that drawing equates a language. Drawing seems to come from a more fundamental level of human life, but in the process of drawing the cartoonist constantly challenges the basic line to begin anew. In the quest to define the never before: The Now. 

Qabbani uses the image of creating through wiping away. In this case wiping away the line that separates us from presence, and it is the perfect image of what takes place in the artistic process. The line is a notion as well as a physical reality and by wiping away, the artist creates a presence on paper that the line separated us from by its being there. A constant process, a struggle even, not to wipe away too much so that The Now never emerges. The struggle of each new drawing.

Juan Zero, From the series Free Syria, August 19, 2012.

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