When walking into Perkins Library you may not stop to look around while sprinting to find a spot to start that paper you’ve been putting off. Well, Duke is providing you with an educational and enriching opportunity to procrastinate.
Slow down and take the time to appreciate the captivating exhibition “Abusing Power: Satirical Journals from the Special Collections Library” in the Perkins Gallery next to the Von der Hayden Cafe. The exhibition, on view until April 11th, is a window into the historical and modest beginnings of caricature. This show is a perfect companion to “Lines of Attack: Conflicts in Caricature” now on view at the Nasher Museum.
“Abusing Power” provides the viewer with contextual information about how satirical cartooning eventually became a popular art form and an outlet of expression for public opinion. The exhibition includes journals published in Germany, France, Spain, Great Britain, Mexico and the United States, from as early as 1821.
The collection maintains art by popular comics such as Thomas Nast, the American cartoonist who helped take down Boss Tweed in the late 19th century, and John Tenniel, the British artist most popularly known for his illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The show also includes a digital display of Honore Daumier donated by Brandies University. “Abusing Power” forces one to reflect on how art, humor and press can influence popular sentiments and, henceforth, policy making.
It is questionable that the the freedom of expression of comics and cartoonists today would have even existed without these pioneers of caricature showcased at Perkins. The art of graphic satire has travelled from the pages of underground newspapers to highly esteemed museums and libraries. The importance and political weight these cartoons carry make them impossible to ignore and has led to their validation as influential art in our society today.
Caricature has no nationality. Whether the cartoons are created in Europe or North and South America one thing is for certain: They reflect a type of social record. Visual humor tends to reach a large audience influencing popular opinion, which consequently affects public policy.
IMAGE: Courtesy of Perkins Library
Kirstie Jeffrey is a Duke junior.