Last year’s rioting in response to Danish drawings of the prophet Muhammad showed that, in some cases, cartoons are no laughing matter. They don’t just lampoon the political landscape; they have the power to shape it as well. Provisions Library’s current exhibit, Drawing Back: Cartoon Critiques of America, examines the power of cartoons as a means of social protest.Not surprisingly, the grimmest images come from Middle Eastern newspapers, which showcase depressing depictions of torture at Abu Ghraib prison. For a pick-me-up, take a look at the goofy, farcical drawings by Kenyan artist Gado on the adjacent wall.
One of Gado’s drawings for Nairobi’s Daily Nation shows Osama bin Laden with a wide, toothy grin. He is holding up a U.S. newspaper announcing death tolls from Katrina. Delighted, Osama picks up the phone and says into the receiver: “Can I speak with Katrina, please??” Once again, the idea is simple, but the absurdity of a giddy bin Laden’s efforts to reach out to ‘Katrina’ from the depths of his cave effectively ties together two seemingly unrelated strands of current events.
The cartoons are presented simply, with very little accompanying context. While this allows the viewer to draw her own inferences, it would have been helpful to have a bit of background info on the newspapers that ran the cartoons, as well as the artists themselves. Provisions has anticipated this hunger for more information, and has supplemented their exhibit with weekly films and a lecture series on related topics. Be sure to check them out before Drawing Back closes at the end of the month.