Art is considered as an expression of life. The colours and lines knit together and hold the potential to speak out of the tenderness and the terror that humankind experiences in equal measure. In the West, it has caused various art movements and styles to evolve over the centuries along with changing social and political scenario.
The art of painting developed within its subject matter as well as its ever widening range of encompassing religion, mythology, nationalism, grief, agony, passion, romance, dichotomy, individualism and even dreams.
In such a serious and humanistic attitude, there emerged an art form that was exaggerated and distorted in appearance and dynamic in its nature.
At the same time, it was also mischievous, satirical and moral; the art of caricatures, commonly known as cartoons. In the 16th and 17th century, caricatures were considered as a popular genre. Since the drawing was the main attribute of these caricatures, they remained as an offshoot of fine arts.
Nadeem Alam traces the evolution of the art of caricatures and their place in our society
In early years, these caricatures were used to make fun of public figures, politicians, royals and aristocrats; crafted in a satirical style but with a special intention of a good moral message. This aspect made them popular in the general public and enabled the suppressed bourgeois class to express their heartfelt thoughts and opinions in a lighter yet stronger and effective way; this characteristic caused the target, as well as the targeted audience, a smile. Initially, these drawings were made in charcoal but later pen and ink turned out to be the popular medium.
The political history of Pakistan has always been in a state of confusion and disarray right from the beginning. The common intellect of this region has seen suppression and sanctions most of the time under martial law and dictatorship. Eventually, this political situation encouraged the satirical and mischievous art of cartoons to flourish. Even during the struggle for freedom, anti-colonial cartoons were popular and after partition, the cartoonists turned their pencils on their own countrymen.
In the 1950s and 1960s, there were very few newspapers and printing and publishing facilities were rare, but the stress between the political and martial law leadership was the blistering topic for the cartoonists. In the eventful ’70s, the dailies with politically charged cartoons sold like hot cakes hot cakes, although at that time the newspapers were printed in black and white.
With the passage of time and groundbreaking development in printing, the newspapers turned colourful and the cartoons became more playful in four-colour printing.
The ’80s with the Zia’s regime and ’90s with the political circus were good enough to extract smiles and tears from these distressing situations.
The beginning of the 21st century marked another era of dictatorship, however, that epoch also provided new possibilities with the onset of cyber culture. Many magazines and dailies launched their e-copies and the caricatures and cartoons were now accessible on the web. In this period, when every news channel was “breaking news”, cartoons were emerging as more and more multifarious and up to date.
The political cartoons of Pakistan, if compiled together, can present a chronology of ever-changing socio-political culture within a country. Many of the country’s leading cartoonists have actually documented the socio-political history of Pakistan, which speaks of truth and “worth more than a thousand words.” Maxim, Jawed Iqbal, Fieca, K.B. Abro, Sabir Nazar and Zaidi are few such names who have captured the ongoing scenario like a reporter who, with the camera uncovered, reports every important passing moment.
In a more detailed analysis, a cartoonist is a patriot who with his art serves the cause of nationalism with all his sincerity and honesty. This is the only art form that could, even in the most adverse circumstances, penetrate the social conscience of a society and stir the lethargic thoughts of daydreamers.
During the British era, when the masses of the subcontinent have very limited rights to protest or expression, and the nationalistic writings and art forms were forbidden or sanctioned; cartoons were the unique way out for such expression. The earliest newspapers in British India were the Bengal Hurkaru and the Indian Gazette in 1850; both were owned by the British government.
Partha Mitter in his renowned book Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850-1922: Occidental Orientations has mentioned the development of political cartoons in the British India as: “Within decades, cartoons appeared in papers owned by Indians, as colonial administration became the target of journalists. The nationalist paper of Bengal, Amrita Bazar Patrika published its first cartoon in 1872.”
Dr Shaukat Mahmood, popularly known as “Maxim the Cartoonist” has titled one of his compilations of cartoons as WMD: US Weapons of Mass Destruction and another one as Democracy is the Best Revenge and both these books contain hundreds of caricatures or cartoons addressing the national as well as international politics and diplomacy.
In these days when load-shedding, corruption, political unrest and international affairs are the ever-changing stories for the journalists; the cartoonists are busy with their pointed ‘weapons’ in hand and sardonic smiles on faces, but their hearts are full of empathy and sincerity.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 21st, 2014