This one-night-only exhibition at the Norman Rea Gallery showcased political cartoons from caricaturists who draw between the prescribed lines of state censorship.
Organised by YorkPEN and Ruki Fernando at York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights, the pop-up show illustrated the on-going infringements of cartoonists’ rights to free expression around the world. For these artists there was no freedom after expression.
The Sri Lankan cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared three years ago, after working for the Lankae News website which publishes news and opinions critical of the government. The website’s office has been subjected to an arson attack, staff have been threatened and arrested, its editor was forced into exile and the website has been blocked.
On 27 August 2009, he was reportedly taken away, blindfolded and chained in a cell. Later on 24 January 2010, two day before the presidential polls, Prageeth Eknaligoda went missing. In a skype exchange, the room listened to Eknaligoda’s wife, Sandya, who has continued to campaign both locally and internationally to find him. Eknaligoda is married and has two children.
Four petitions for Prageeth were run across the evening. Ruki Fernando spoke to the audience about the situation facing his island of serendipity. Since 2005, 34 journalists have been murdered, yet not a single murderer has been sent to prison, and up to 25 journalists a year are fleeing the country. Journalists are forced to write under pseudonyms, regularly receive threats and knowingly sacrifice their lives for a story. As a journalist, if you cross the line you risk never getting back behind it.
The evening also featued the work of Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, whose hands stand as a screaming symbol of Syrian resistance. On Thursday 25 August 2011, masked state-sponsored militia from President Bashar Assad’s regime, beat Ali and brutally broke his hands. It was a bid to silence this caricaturist into submission. But Ali Ferzat’s hands healed. Ali is now living in exile in Kuwait where he continues to define, and redefine through his own unique medium of mass communication, the slaughtering tyranny of the Syrian Government.
Ali first had his first cartoons published at just 14 before the publication was banned by Assad’s father. In 2012, Time Magazine named Ali Ferzat one of the 100 most influential people in the world. It was a cartoon depicting a General offering out military decorations instead of food to a hungry citizen that stirred the most discontent. One cartoon included an image of a gun with a razor blade for a trigger and a severed fingertip; a recent cartoon captures a small sprouting flower lifting a tank.
Mana Neyestani was born in Tehran, Iran, and in 1973 and became the editorial cartoonist of Zan in 1998. On 12th May, 2006, Neyestani was arrested over one of his cartoons, printed in the children’s section of a government funded newspaper.The cartoon depicted a cockroach sitting at a desk with a boy, sitting next to him, asking a question. The cockroach answers, “Namana” meaning, “I don’t get it” in the Azeri language, which is spoken mainly in Northern Iran. It has become a slang word in the Farsi language. This provoked an angry reaction from the Azeri Iranians, who felt the government were inferring they were cockroaches, despite the cartoon sequence speaking in both Azeri and Farsi.
The night was an illuminating combination of illustrations, interviews, photographs, quotes, videos and exploration of the individual cases of the showcased cartoonists.