Arts editor HELEN MUSA reports from this years “Behind the Lines” exhibition of political cartoons. “It’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying this enormous show,” she says.
WITH the theme of “The Greatest Hits Tour”, this year’s “Behind the Lines” exhibition took the year’s best political cartoons from sideshow alley and out on tour to the wider Australian public, where the pub test is still a valid way of judging our country’s leaders.
It’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying this enormous show, but it does have a serious side, as director of the Museum of Australian Democracy which hosts the exhibition, Daryl Karp, has been quick to point out.
“We are in a perfect storm,” Karp said, echoing her recent words at the opening of MoAD’s companion exhibition, “Truth, Power and a Free Press”.
And while, in her view, our political cartoonists are “one of democracy’s greatest weapons”, the increasing use of freelancers as opposed to staffers suggested an assault on their ability to comment.
MoAD curator Jennifer Forest has divided this year’s show of work by 30 cartoonists into discrete sections.
“Battle of the Bands“ (the election campaign) is a prelude to the main body of the show, which gets into swing in the section “Back by Popular Demand,” dealing with the miraculous re-election of the Coalition with Scott Morrison as Prime Minister.
Cartoonists are rarely devout and Chris “Roy” Taylor’s “The Miracle Formula” for the Melbourne “Herald Sun” satirises Morrison and hints at divine intervention in the result, while more locally David Pope’s depiction of another kind of intervention in “Clive Palmer‘s Return on Investment”, is almost deliberately gross.
The “Changing Tunes” of the Australian political landscape as one departure followed another is symbolically characterised by cartoonist David Rowe’s larger-than-life red shoes of departing foreign minister Julie Bishop.
Overseas targets are there, too, with Donald Trump, the Hong Kong riots, and a zany depiction of Boris Johnson as Guy Fawkes by Alan Moir in “Boris Blows up Parliament”.
This year’s cartoons occasionally take a sombre turn, in keeping with the times, seen in Jos Valdman’s comment on the Christchurch massacre, “United in Grief” and a cartoon from 1983 by William Ellis Green showing the late Bob Hawke sitting on the letterbox at the country property of former PM Malcolm Fraser.
Comment on the environment proves fertile ground for caricature, with the section “Great Southern Land ” taking a look at the Murray Darling Basin, environmental activism and the decline of the Barrier Reef.
As the exhibit heads off on its grand Aussie tour, members of the general public are not immune from attack, with Chris Downes showing the entire nation obsessively glued to their devices.
Hobart cartoonist Jon Kudelka was presented with the Australian Cartoonists Association’s Gold Stanley award for Cartoonist of the Year at the 35th annual Stanley Awards, timed to coincide with the “Behind the Lines” opening.
Kudelka was on hand to receive a cheque for $5000 and make some sage observations. After bemoaning the cartoonist’s duty to battle deadlines and produce, daily, “a very public piece of art”, he declined to identify a coherent narrative in the year’s crop of cartoons.
“Someone else has curated our work and it’s nice to see, but if anything needs to be explained, the cartoon’s failed,” he said.
“Behind the Lines: The year’s best political cartoons”. Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House.