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Canberra cartoonist David Rowe features in the 2017 Behind The Lines Exhibition

By Elias Hallaj - 28 November 2017 0
David Rowe seated in front of his beautiful "Hero Cartoon" at the launch of Behind the Lines 2017.  Photo: Mark Nolan, MoAD.

David Rowe seated in front of his beautiful “Hero Cartoon” at the launch of Behind the Lines 2017. Photo: Mark Nolan, MoAD.

Canberra cartoonist David Rowe has once again taken out the prized Political Cartoonist of the Year award at the annual Behind the Lines Exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy.

‘Behind the Lines 2017: The Three Ring Circus’, is an exhibition celebrating the role of political cartoonists in Australia, and officially opened to the public over the weekend at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House (MoAD).

The exhibition showcases the year’s best political cartoons, highlighting themes of freedom of the press and democracy in action, and features work from David Pope, John Shakespeare, David Rowe, Michael Leunig, Cathy Wilcox and Mark Knight, among others.

An editorial cartoonist for the Australian Financial Review, David Rowe has captured Australia’s political landscape with bold brush strokes and biting humour since the late 1980’s. RiotACT got a chance to ask David a few questions about his work and Canberra:

RA: You grew up in Canberra! Where did you go to school?

David Rowe: I’m an Eddies’ boy and loved growing up and living in Canberra [like the writer, he seems very well adjusted despite having attended an all-boys Catholic school].

RA: Did your parents have a strong influence on your worldview and understanding of politics?

David Rowe: Yes I think so. I was raised in a typical Canberra public service household and politics was regularly discussed.

RA: You mentioned during your ABC radio interview on 24 November that you are often angry and disappointed by politics. Do you think that is common in Canberra?

David Rowe: Canberra is wonderful. But growing up in Canberra you are constantly exposed to good and bad politics. You’re surrounded by it, so you tend to understand it better than the average person, which is perhaps why I tend to be disappointed by it on a regular basis.

RA: What memories do you have of your first exposure to political cartoons?

David Rowe: I remember sitting in the back seat of an old car when dad took us to the Queanbeyan races and I spent the whole afternoon sitting in the car reading and enjoying a Larry Pickering annual.

RA: What are your favourite parts of Canberra – what do you enjoy the most?

David Rowe: I absolutely love the lake and think it is a wonderful way to spend a day. It’s really improved a lot recently too.

RA: Anything else?

David Rowe: We are lucky in Canberra to have so many amazing restaurants and food places as well. Everything from Japanese to great Italian places like Italian and Sons, to modern restaurants like 86. It’s really something worth sharing with people from interstate.

Above (and below): photo from RA journalist Glynis Quinlan, showing David's happy face and proving political cartooning is not completely depressing!

Above (and below): photo from RA journalist Glynis Quinlan, showing David’s happy face and proving political cartooning is not completely depressing!

RA: What’s your favourite part of being involved in the Between The Lines Exhibition each year – apart from winning the prize for best political cartoonist!

David Rowe: It’s a really wonderful group of people who appreciate cartooning and politics. I love seeing cartoons that I forgot about again, including some of my own, and being reminded of many beautiful and intriguing cartoons from all over Australia. So much happened in politics this year it’s hard to remember it all, especially some of the more bizarre and funny events. And sometimes when you look at a cartoon again a few months later, current events and evolving issues can give it an even more profound meaning.

RiotACT also sat down briefly with the Museum of Australian Democracy’s much-loved Director Daryl Karp and sought her views about this year’s collection. Daryl explained that each year, the MoAD’s Behind The Lines research is led by cartoonist Fiona Katauskas and involves pouring through over 1,000 cartoons. These cartoons are eventually culled to a shortlist of around 300 before the final 80-100 cartoons are chosen, and a winner is selected to be Cartoonist Of The Year. This year for the first time there is also a dedicated section for the Cartoonist Of The Year, highlighting some of their best work.

Daryl explained the collection is a great way to remember what happened in Australian politics over the year. “What better way to reflect on the tumultuous political year – from postal votes and citizenship chaos, to penalty rates and constitutional recognition – than through the art form of political cartoons,” she said. “Behind the Lines 2017 showcases the spirit of Australia’s democracy in all its passion, scepticism and humour.”

There are too many beautiful cartoons to mention in a short article. The selection not only reveals the wealth of artistic talent amongst Australia’s editorial cartoonists, but also the aesthetic eye of the curator, Holly Williams. Holly’s appreciation of the art is revealed not only in her “curator’s selection”, but also through her explanation of some of her favourite pieces, including the epic “Hero” artwork below by David Rowe, which was used to launch this year’s exhibition.

Curator’s comments: “Although this cartoon doesn’t feature the painterly background Rowe’s work is often known for, it is full of the detail and sophisticated composition that he brings to his practice. Some of my favourite elements are the airy motifs he has peppered across the cartoon which give a great sense of movement. The air in Bill Shorten’s umbrella, the wind turbine and the flying Twitter birds, the precarious rope Trump is balanced on all give the feeling of being high above the ground, but for me, it is the wind in Trump’s coat tails that sets the whole scene off.”

Holly Williams explained the exhibition theme, ‘The Three Ring Circus’, was first coined as a term in 1881 for simultaneous performances, and now includes the definition of meaning something wild, confusing, engrossing, or entertaining. As the theme for this year’s Behind the Lines, the three-ring circus captures the feeling of a world where fact and fiction seemingly collide. “Our cartoonists have been busy capturing this spirit of surprise and turbulence,” said Holly.

“As academics Robert Phiddian and Haydon Manning remind us, ‘cartoons tell truth to power in ways power would rather not hear’, something which lingered in the back of my mind when these cartoons were being selected. The circus-based themes this year explore some of the successes and failures of our democratic system – the persistence of free speech, the pressures of lobby groups and the political wheeling and dealing under the glare of the media spotlight.”

Holly also explained that with the changing media landscape, fewer cartoonists are gracing the dwindling pages of our daily newspapers. Their work is just as likely to be found on their social media feeds, or sadly not at all. We are still fortunate to have the keen intelligence and rich visual skills of some of the finest in their craft. Our Prime Minister featured in many brilliant cartoons, including Glen Le Lievre’s “On a Roll” (below), first published in Crikey on 28 March 2017.

Curator’s comments: “Le Lievre’s cigar smoking fat cat presents a Sisyphean task for our PM. Drawn with a beautiful visual style featuring lovely little elements like the falling top hat, the bursting coat jacket and the cat’s smile we can almost feel sympathetic for Turnbull’s plight as he struggles under the pressure of big business interests.”

The guest speaker for this year’s Behind The Lines was Pulitzer Prize-winning US Cartoonist Ann Telnaes. She shared a great old story illustrating the history of cartoonists dealing with humourless autocrats. When one US politician, sick of being portrayed as an animal, proposed a new law banning the depiction of public figures as “animals, beasts or other creatures” likely to ridicule or defame or cause offence – he was subsequently drawn as a turnip and various other vegetables and also a tree! She made the obvious analogy with how Trump treated the modern media. President Trump was recently invited to a media event in the US, where he spent most of the dinner complaining about how badly the media treated him and took particular umbrage at the repeated use of a photo showing him with a double chin. Various cartoonists subsequently drew him with up to ten chins. But those stories pale into insignificance compared to her numerous horror stories about cartoonists being arrested, killed, tortured and jailed around the world, some as young as 16. She rightfully concluded that the freedom to draw editorial cartoons that criticise governments and leaders was an important protection of free speech. If you want to hear more from her there was also a great interview with Ann by the Guardian’s Mike Bowers as part of the regular Talking Pictures segment of the ABC Insiders Sunday morning program.

Pulitzer Prize-winning US Cartoonist Ann Telnaes was the main guest speaker at the launch of Behind The Lines 2017. Photo: Glynis Quinlan.

Pulitzer Prize-winning US Cartoonist Ann Telnaes was the main guest speaker at the launch of Behind The Lines 2017. Photo: Glynis Quinlan.

Apart from this exhibition, my kids and I are huge fans of MoAD. The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House celebrates the spirit of Australian democracy and the power of your voice within it. For more information about opening times and events visit www.moadoph.gov.au. Over the school holidays, it’s definitely also worth visiting MoAD for other art and exhibitions and its awesome and fun games, like #AusPol SNAP!

And the best set of Who Am I on earth has just had a major revamp of its artwork based on newer drawings of our favourite Australian political characters.

Plus there is a great kids room that can keep the ankle-biters entertained for hours.

My kids did some stacking at the #Museum of Australian #Democracy in #Canberra last weekend.

A post shared by Elias (@elias_hallaj) on

Behind the Lines 2017 is on at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra from now until next year. Entry to the exhibition is free after museum admission ($2 adults, $1 children, free for children under 5 years old and concessions, $5 family). You should also let your friends know that a travelling version of the exhibition will also tour the following regional areas:

  • Tamworth Regional Gallery – 15 December 2017 to 4 February 2018
  • Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery – 10 February to 29 March 2018
  • Parramatta Riverside Theatre – 11 April to 6 June 2018
  • Albury Library Museum – 23 June to 14 August 2018
  • Old Treasury Building, Melbourne – 27 August to 15 October 2018
  • Bunker Cartoon Gallery, Coffs Harbour – 26 October to 2 December 2018.

Who’s your favourite political cartoonist in Canberra? Let us know in the comments section below.

Elias Hallaj (aka CBRfoodie) is a part-time food blogger and full-time political staffer who has joined RiotACT as a regular contributor. All his opinions about snack packs, scallops and barbecued chooks are his own. Don’t worry he is trying to cut back on fried and fatty food, but insists it’s just too damned delicious. If you have any tips or feedback on food in Canberra or suggestions about stories on the amazing things our city has to offer you can find him on Twitter @CBRfoodie.

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