Armando Gámez Padrón (Ciudad de México): Trump prensa stunman, ilustración digital.
Everyone is a cartoonist and furthermore, a rebel. Together, they are a gang that shakes the establishment using irony. They come from all sides: from south and north of the Rio Bravo. Their cartoons reflect the revenge of the line, inciting laughter. The brevity of their strokes stimulate thought. They document the official history and shred political trends. Some remain trapped in tradition and others adapt to current technologies. Humor forms and transforms them. There used to be a ton of them, but each year there are less and less. In 1995, in the United States alone, there were more than 200 cartoonists collaborating in major newspapers,and today scarcely 40 have survived in the industry. Few continue as salaried employees, the majority have fallen into the ambiguous world of freelancing. The number of artists and political cartoons is diminishing at a time when their existence is more important than ever. Cultural homogenization, digitalization and censorship have contributed to the crisis that political cartoons are in, and as a profession, it is headed towards the path of extinction. However, memes seem to be the major threat to political cartoons. The wit and quick joke of the meme has replaced the complexity that characterizes humor, satire, and irony. In today’s world, Kermit the Frog and vulgar memes have become the prevailing pedagogical model. But it wasn’t always this way.
In the year 79 in Pompeii, long before our time, an artist exaggerated the shape of a politician until he had deformed him into a “caricare”, it was an exaggeration. From this “caricare” comes the caricature/cartoon. Centuries after, Leonardo da Vinci also contributed with his drawings to the hilarious history of the cartoon by tracing grotesque drawings that exaggerated the protuberances from the faces of his models. It is known that in the XVII century, English Puritans used drawings as a way to provide moral guidance against sinners. In Spain, before directing his irony towards others, Goya used the same grotesque exaggerations against himself. Does humor not start with oneself? And it is perhaps in Los Caprichos of the Andalusian master where one can find the most acidic register of the human condition. In the United States, the intellectual and political Benjamin Franklin also put his pen to paper and drew a snake cut into pieces that incited the unity of the colonies: “Join or Die.” But it wasn’t until after the French Revolution that the political cartoon took off. Of course, that doesn’t mean that before the French Revolution politicians were devotees of absolutism.
In Mexico, José Guadalupe Posada created more than 15,000 pieces including etchings, lithography, and drawings. His work circulated in magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets. Posada scorned politicians, lovers, demons, and cartoonish experiences of local life. And Rius has more than 100 books rousing more than just a few youths in critique and reading alike. Little by little, the strokes of these cartoon pioneers came together to taunt the rich and powerful. Their drawings were published in newspapers and the irony became the Achilles tendon of many politicians.
Cynthia Sousa y Samuel Machado (Miami): I Got This, digital.
In reality, Trump has insisted on turning himself into a parody. He doesn’t require a cartoonist to amplify his physical traits in order to turn him into a caricature. Just calling Trump a caricature is an oxymoron. Word by word, lie by lie, whim by whim, Trump has the target of criticism by cartoon artists, and the butt of the jokes of comedians. The President of the United States represents the educational and cultural failure of a nation. With the electoral election in November, the “democratic” electorates shot themselves in the foot. The electoral corporate system is convalescing. The political circus leads to the a rethinking of the real-world system in order to reinvent it. And it is here where many cartoonists have begun to make firewood from the fallen tree. With the harsh mark of their pencils, pens, and pixels, they are contributing to the political resistance. They have unmasked fascism, the repugnance of homophobia, racism, and the inhumanity of xenophobia. The administration’s incessant stupidity allows the artists to stay on their toes.
Montooneros is the first bi-national exhibition at OPEN Center for the Arts. It brings together 37 cartoonists; 19 from Mexico and 18 from the U.S. The cartoons are politically themed, could they be anything else in this critical day and age? Trump and his draconian politics are the backbone of this exhibition. Contrary to the short-lived meme, political cartoons require an exercise in intellect and esthetics, as much as in execution and comprehension. In spite of the repetitive iconography of the president; obviously it is not an apology. Upon observing the cartoons by blocks, north and south, there are no two visions alike within the same political outlook. The polyphony of voices and brushstrokes is critical, irreverent, and iconic. The irony of the cartoons does not heal the human pain inflicted by today’s politics against the most vulnerable: immigrants, the poor, Mexicans, Muslims, and members of the LGBTQ community. The combination of cartoons—without sacrificing humor—invites us to self-reflection, to observe the reality and apply ourselves. It is not possible to continue rejecting the ‘otherness’ that one finds in others and even in oneself. Montooneros itself offers a range of esthetic displays of both known and emerging artists. This exhibition, without suggesting it, has erased the borders brought on by political adversity and with skill, has directed the dart of criticism towards the highest representative in a political system in denial that is in free fall.
Gary A. Huck (Baltimore): Dark Light, collage digital.
There is a ton carton that moves me: Dark Light by Gary A. Huck. It is a digital collage;, I love the conceptual economy, the appropriation of the symbolism, the impeccable esthetics. The title, Dark Light, is an incredible verbal game. Is there hidden light? Is not light the opposite of darkness? Or, as said by playwright one of Raul DonatesDorantes’ characters: “Is not light the absence of darkness? And is not darkness, the absence of light?” Huck unites the concepts in the title and contrasts them in its cartoon. Between shadows, the torch of the statue of liberty, from Ellis Island, lights up the icon that employs the highways of southern California in order to indicate that there are immigrants crossing the highways. That brilliant light illuminates the accelerated steps of the undocumented family. That light is not the signal of hope, but of tragedy: It amputates the hope of millions of immigrants. The hand of the statue has wielded her torch against the free transport and the liberty of immigrants. In reality, they are committing vile acts of injustice in the name of liberty. Huck’s Statue of Liberty represents the conceptual annulment of the word. It represents the administration and their xenophobic politics without even mentioning the president. The cartoon is succinct and devastating. It is the intelligent stroke of a cartoonist committed to the working-class’ fight; for 29 years he was the only artist employed by UE (a union). Dark Light is a cartoon of superb execution and its conceptual achievement is no less splendid. This is only an example of the work of the 27 artists exhibited in Montooneros, and the audience will be able to choose the cartoon that moves them or makes them think.
Translated from Spniahs by Rachel Schmidt
Montooneros at OPEN Center for the Arts from March 11 until April 8 2017
Fran Piña has been the cofounder of several literary magazines in Chicago: Fe de erratas, zorros y erizos, Tropel y Contratiempo. He is the coauthor of the book Rudy Lozano: His Life, His People (1991). One of Piña was published in the anthology Se habla español: Voces latinas en USA (2000) y Voces en el viento: Nuevas ficciones desde Chicago (1999). He is the editor of art catalogs: Marcos Raya: Fetishizing the Imaginary (2004), The Art of Gabriel Villa (2007), René Arceo: Between the Instinctive and the Rational (2010), Alfonso Piloto Nieves Ruiz: Sculpture (2014) and Barberena: Master Prints (2016). Piña is the editorial director of El BeiSMan.