If political cartoonists use drawings to take control – why can’t we?
We are making a platform game of Southend to be drawn and designed by Southenders. As this collective artwork, called Play Southend, takes shape, I am alert to anything in my new-ish home town that connects to drawing, public play and political emancipation.
So I struck the mother lode at last night’s public talk by the Guardian’s political cartoonist, Martin Rowson and light entertainment celeb (and artist, it turns out) Phill Jupitus, at an exhibition at the Cafe Valise in the heart of Leigh Community Centre. Everyone seemed to enjoy the display of Jupitus’s cartoons and the raucous discussion about drawing and the history of political satirical cartooning in the UK.
Rowson’s presentation took an epic historical sweep, starting 37000 years ago with the cave paintings at Lascaux in France. Caricatures of animals drawn on the walls flicker and move magically in firelight, like modern day animations. He describes these drawings as a means for prehistoric hunters get close to, to know, or “capture” their prey.
His thesis is that satirical cartoons are necessary in any society that has leaders; and that political cartoonists use drawings to take control of the people who have control of their lives. “Once you’ve got them, you can do what you like with them”. So Cameron is refigured as Little Lord Fauntleroy, and Clegg as Pinocchio, the puppet who just wants to be a real politician.
Alistair Campbell apparently hated being drawn. He intuited the danger of being captured by Rowson, so full of political rage and acuity and understood that once Rowson had really seen him through the process of drawing, Campbell (inseparable from his public image) would be taken apart and subjected to all manner of indignities. And and he was right. In a later cartoon he turns up as a blocked, turd-spewing lavatory (Blair is one of the misplaced turds floating in a stinking pool).
So Rowson claims drawing is a kind of voodoo- he’s stealing their souls.
It is this power of drawing, to take control of the world and the meaning of its powers and places, that we want to unleash in the platform game of Southend, as we collectively imagine, draw and build our future town together.
The Play Southend slogan is “If you draw it, it will happen!”, calling for a wild and playful reversal of energy flow in public consultation and community planning processes through drawing and play.
Thankfully last year’s public drawing events (check out the drawings in the LOCAL PLAY gallery) would suggest that we inhabitants of Southend have more affection for our town than Rowson does for our politicians. Essex based artist Michael Szpakowski draws a Southend dad enjoying free food at a free library on the seafront, Liz draws Southend as the Venice of South East England. But yesterday’s event reminded me, as we prepare to call for every Southender to draw for the game, that we should pay attention to the spirit in which the drawings are made- for the sake of the future well-being and prosperity of all the town’s residents.