From the minute I walked in to preview the exhibition “Lines of Attack: Conflicts in Caricature,” I felt overwhelmingly proud to be an American.
That may seem ironic considering the slanderous yet utterly hilarious art adorning the walls that attack most recent leaders of this country. It is not that I take pride in the politicians that we have elected as a people but the fact that we are able to express our disdain for them. We live in a nation that allows us to publicly show our hatred for the figureheads that make decisions for our country.
That is an amazing thing.
We can express these sentiments, positive or negative, on talk radio, on television, on the internet and through art. The influence humor and the arts have over popular opinion is profound.
We are allowed to put George W. Bush’s face on toilet paper (which can be seen in the exhibition) and not a single person gets arrested for it. The First Amendment is an amazing piece of legislation that allows for artistic expression against those in power.
Caricature is an amazing way to make your opinions publicly known. Often times people yearn to have their voices heard yet no one will listen in the garble of elections and news casting. Visual imagery paired with witty humor can grab people’s attention and make a point known in a matter of seconds. These cartoons are packing a huge punch and not only make viewers break into hysterical laughter (some of which I heard while walking through the exhibition) but they cause people to really think about the foils to their art. The art is there to raise questions about authority, ethics and morality of politics and leadership.
Two such compelling works are “Clintocchio-Been Telling Lies Again,” a 1997 work by Gerald Scarfe, and “The Case For Impeachment” by Jeff Danzinger from 2007. By placing these works in context with one another the viewer really takes a step back to ponder the repercussions of Clinton’s sex scandal in relation to Bush’s somewhat hidden agenda concerning the War on Terror. Until George came along, the public though that oral sex out of wedlock was the most unforgivable thing a president could do. Morals aside, the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton did not take countless American lives, yet at the time of its surfacing the public satirized Clinton’s escapades as the media labeled him as a liar and a scumbag.
Come out and see the show, you’ll see first hand that hindsight is 20/20 as the show proves to be a historical record of our own society.
Kirstie Jeffrey is a junior majoring in visual studies at Duke.
IMAGE: Gerald Scarfe, “Clintocchio-Been Telling Lies Again,” 1997. Pen, ink and watercolor, 33 x 23 inches. Unpublished.