The link between drawing and politics has for many years been via the political cartoon. In particular we have a tradition in England that includes Gilray, Rowlandson, Cruckshank and Dent and which continues with the work of Steve Bell, Ralph Steadman and Martin Rawson. In order to make a point artists have had to distort, highlight grotesque appearances and create 'surreal' situations, so that the paradoxes and confusions of politics are communicated to as wide an audience as possible. Artists such as Goya valued this tradition and drew upon it in their own work and whenever times are harsh and artists need to confront the brutal realities of life, this type of art comes back into fashion. However as has already been pointed out there are many other ways of using drawing to make a political point.
Drawing can be thought of as a type of 'capture' or 'trapping' of a period of time. It is a very personal decision making process, that is unique to the individual making the drawing and therefore has a different type of agency to mechanically produced images; one driven by interest and cognition rather than by technological effect. The sense of touch that comes through mark making and the handmade nature of the image create the beginnings of an authentic dialogue with an event, a dialogue that is unavoidably human and in being so is therefore political and because there is so much 'touch' involved, a certain level of truth value comes through as well. Political work demands a point of view and so do drawings. As you view them drawings reveal themselves via different visual languages; these might include emotional or expressive mark making or use of tonal value, they may involve an invention of form that can be distorted to heighten an awareness of something or to achieve a link between another form that we would not have previously thought about. Selection is vital in a drawing, and because of this it works so much better than a camera, when picking out narrative threads from a situation. Above all a drawing can both record and respond to a situation at the same time, it can invent new forms at the same time as recording what is seen and because it is human made, it has a certain democratic relationship with other human beings, allowing them to enter into an interpretive dialogue with the image, something that is again much harder to do with a photograph.
Dr Gill Gibbon is based in Leeds and in her work brings together an awareness of cutting edge killing technology with one of the oldest methods of recording events; drawings in sketchbooks.
Dr Gill Gibbon making sketchbook notes at an arms fair
Dr Gill Gibbon, sketchbooks
It's interesting to see the relationship between beautiful women and armaments. Men in suits strike poses and of course so many weapons of mass destruction look like enormous phalluses. It would be interesting to see how far into one of those arms exhibitions the subjects of Barbara Walker's drawings would get.
The way drawings are presented can also be political. Barbara Walker's large drawings are often done directly on gallery walls, so on the one hand their scale gives presence and highlights a political awareness of the individuals she selects to draw, who are often members of society that are not celebrated or picked out for their achievements. On the other hand she erases the drawings at the end of the exhibition, this in many ways reinforces a political awareness that society doesn't really care about these people, and the exhibition is a sort of sideshow that does not really effect the reality of the situation.
Barbara Walker cleaning off her drawings
I have recently been posting on art and philosophy and will be continuing to do so, but I do wander what is a quandary proper to politics as opposed to philosophy? Object Orientated Ontology as an approach to philosophy is I would suggest driven by a political need for equality, a desire to give equal rights to all those other things that human beings have tended to just use for their own pleasure and devices. Therefore a focus on the underprivileged in human society can become a doorway into looking at how society can ignore both certain types of people and the world itself. It is no coincidence that President Trump ignores the plight of refugees and the threat of global warming.
Not all stories are the same. A story from a time when humans had a more animist relationship with the world.
A Kenyan farmer saw a spotted hyena trying to force itself into his goat enclosure. He instinctively attacked the hyena with his spear and killed it. However as the hyena cried out it woke the other villagers and the elders came over to the killing to see what was happening.
The elders were unhappy. The farmer had acted too rashly. In those times someone would be appointed to represent the animal and he had testified that his careful examination of the hyena had revealed that the deceased was a female who was still suckling pups. He argued that given the prevailing drought and the hyena’s need to nourish her young, her behavior in attempting to scavenge food from human settlements was reasonable and that it was wrong to have killed her. The farmer had not considered the hyena’s situation and he could have simply driven her away. Eventually the elders ordered the man’s clan to pay compensation for the harm done by driving more than one hundred of their goats into the bush, where they could be eaten by hyenas and to ensure that a wider type of restorative justice was done. .
Wrongdoing was seen as a symptom of a breakdown in relationships within the wider community of nature and the elders seek to restore the damaged relationship rather than focusing on identifying and punishing the wrongdoer.
A Makonde elephant shetani
Justice and nature can be cruel, the shetani figures of East Africa are often vengeful and unpredictable spirits. Sometimes coming in hybrid anthropomorphic forms, such as this elephant/human above, they suggest that it isn't all one way traffic and that at times nature will bite back, sometimes hosted in strange and twisted forms. We have to hope that our vast pits of polluted rubbish do not breed mutant forms such as these. My feeling about shetani images is that they are nature's political art, and that the reason humans are so worried by shetani figures is that deep down we realise we are guilty and that we deserve their attacks.
Drawing and politics (part one)
Drawing and politics: part three
The political drawings of Yuksel Arslan