Satirical art thriving under U.S. administration

When Michael de Adder received news of U.S. President Donald Trump’s election, he said he felt shock and anger, and decided to pick up his pens and draw a picture of Trump kissing a reluctant Lady Liberty.

A Halifax-based, award-winning editorial cartoonist, de Adder is one cartoonist among many who has found plenty to draw about during this new American presidential term.

“If everything was hunky-dory in the world, cartoonists would have a hard go of it,” de Adder said. “But politics, being what it is, always leads to situations that are ripe for lampooning. And right now, the situation couldn’t be better for cartoonists.”

For de Adder, what motivates him to draw political cartoons is anger. He said his art is often a “knee-jerk” reaction to political events.

“I probably see myself as a reactionary most days,” he said. “When you’re this diametrically opposed to the people in power, like I am with Trump, your cartoons can kind of take on a protest feel. And you can feel like a protester, especially with Trump. You can feel like you’re doing the work of the people in the street.”

After the Women’s March happened on Jan. 21, de Adder drew a cartoon of the Statue of Liberty wearing a “pussyhat”—a pink toque with cat ears sported by many protesters at the Women’s March to signify solidarity.

“I drew that to support the people in the streets,” he said.

De Adder said he felt more like a protester at that moment than a political cartoonist.

“When I see something wrong that I think is wrong, I just point it out,” de Adder said. “It’s really that simple. I’m just motivated by anger and the desire to express myself, just like all artists.”

Graeme McKay, editorial cartoonist for the Hamilton Spectator, said he’s created almost 70 cartoons in the year and a half that Trump has been in the political spotlight, compared to the approximately 72 cartoons during the two Obama presidential terms.

“I learned it’s a good idea to self-moderate your anger and be a little more subtle in conveying that,” McKay said. “But anger certainly inspires you to get your point across, to come up with a  creative way to convey it without being too obvious that you’re upset.”

Satirical art is “a kind of mischievous way of showing opposition or pushing back on authority,” McKay added. He said it’s important for any kind of democracy to have satire and art.

“It’s a wonderful way of getting a point across without getting your head chopped off, of course,” he said.

“[Satirical art] is very robust when you get a character like Trump in there. It’s a golden period of time for cartoonists.” McKay said. “You’ve got a real caricature as president. You might have to go way back to Nixon to find a character as fascinating or as gaffe-prone as Donald Trump.”

It’s often difficult to keep drawing cartoons that are up to date with news regarding Trump as new things happen constantly with American politics, according to McKay and de Adder.

Cara Tierney, a professor of history and theory of art at the University of Ottawa, said art and politics have a long history together. Tierney, a multi-disciplinary artist, also curated the TRANSACTIONS exhibition at the Carleton University Art Gallery earlier this year.

“My work is 100 per cent political,” Tierney said.

Tierney creates performance art and photographic images, often focused on self-portraiture and trans  identity.  Their art connects to a long tradition of feminist art practice of self-portraiture and self-representation.

“Historically the female body has been portrayed by men, and women have been kept outside of art practice,” Tierney said. “So throughout history, in the 1600s and even earlier, for a woman to make a self-portrait was inherently political.”

They added they think the connection between art and politics is so strong due to human nature, as we live in a society that holds sight above other senses.

“We judge things very quickly based on what we see. We give the visual a seat of primacy and we are very affected by what we see,” Tierney said.

Tierney said there are many ways to make art, and political art is just one.

“There are people who believe that having a strong political message in the artwork takes away from some sort of formal purity, but I don’t believe in that to be honest with you,” Tierney said. “I absolutely believe that art has a role to play in politics and it doesn’t necessarily lessen how pure it is in terms of art.”

Pia Guerra, a Vancouver-based comic book artist, said art is about putting one’s feelings together and making a really strong stance and point.

A comic by  Guerra of a mini-Trump sitting on a giant Steve Bannon’s lap went viral on Twitter, garnering over 25,000 retweets, and gaining media attention from outlets such as CBC and The Daily Beast.

She said she did not seriously draw political cartoons until Trump came into power, at which point she felt she needed to do something in reaction to the despair she felt towards his election.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing now and hopefully it’ll annoy people,” she said. “It’ll annoy the right people. I want them to be annoyed. They need to know that people are watching them, and they’re not going to get away with this shit for very long.”

– Graphic by Christophe Young