In Geneva, Chappatte and press cartoonists face up to freedom of expression

On a wall, this sentence in the form of a slogan: “Satire can hurt your feelings.” Because yes, it is a fact, satire can offend your sensitivity. So much the better, moreover, because that is also what it is used for: to shake up consciousness, to encourage reflection by enlarging the line. In Geneva, Le Commun welcomes Chappatte – Watch out for drawings!, an exhibition that sees the designer of Time, through his work and that of international colleagues, focus on freedom of expression and the need for press cartoons, which remain a good barometer for measuring the good health of a democracy. “Without humor, we are all dead,” says ironically a character drawn by the Genevan the day after the abominable attack committed in January 2015 against the editorial staff of Charlie hebdo.

On the need for press cartoons

At the origin of this exhibition, there is the decision of New York Times, in June 2019, to give up political caricature. For Chappatte, who collaborates with the prestigious American daily, this was a worrying signal coming from a country where freedom of expression is defended by the First Amendment of the Constitution. The Genevan then castigated in a manifesto “a world where the moralizing horde gathers on social media and descends like a sudden storm on the editorial staff. This forces editors to take immediate countermeasures, paralyzes all thinking, blocks all discussion. “

Expanded version

A great fan of press cartoons, Nathalie Herschdorfer, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Le Locle (MBAL), immediately contacted Chappatte to offer him a hanging from his manifesto to offer a world tour of the various pressures, threats and condemnations that weigh on cartoonists and caricaturists. Chappatte – Watch out for drawings! will open on February 15, 2020, before closing a few weeks later due to a pandemic and then reopening in June. Here it is landing in Geneva, and in an augmented version.

On the exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Le Locle:
The pencil as a weapon of mass resistance

On the ground floor, in the Contemporary Art Building, the picture rails host, it was inevitable, an anthology of drawings made by the Genevan on the covid, this first major world event since the end of the Second World War. On December 16, 2020, he was showing on one of the Time a nurse asking a patient a seemingly straightforward question: “Are you willing to be vaccinated against a potentially fatal disease?” Scathing response: “Rather die!” This drawing in a way anticipated the hardening of the fronts and the explosion of the anti-ax movement.

Upstairs, while other drawings by Chappatte show the extent of his talent, between the effectiveness of the commentary and the elegance of the line – see this Matterhorn literally eaten up by roads and buildings to illustrate the sprawl of the territory (NZZ am Sonntag, February 2019). And in the center of the space, large black canvases on which are printed works which, throughout the world, have caused debate and have seen certain designers threatened with their freedom of expression and sometimes even their physical integrity. Rewritten for the occasion, the manifesto signed by the designer is like an editorial introducing various sections devoted to the censorship exercised by power and religion or to the destructive power of social networks.

Chappatte – Watch out for drawings!, Le Commun, Bâtiment d’art contemporain, Geneva, until February 20, 2022.

Guided tours on Sundays December 19, January 16 and February 6 at 2:30 p.m.

Wokism and humor: round table organized in collaboration with the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation and The weather, Wednesday February 2 at 6 p.m., notably with Chappatte and Xavier Gorce (Le Point).

Musa Kart (Turkey)

“Beware of power!” Warns the first section of the tour of the world proposed by the exhibition. In Turkey, Musa Kart knows something about it. Cartoonist of the opposition daily Cumhuriyet, he had already had trouble starting in 2005 with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Prime Minister; the future president had lodged a complaint following a cartoon representing him in chat. In July 2016, the day after the failed coup d’état that targeted him, the politician went further, arresting a dozen journalists from Cumhuriyet, including Musa Kart, for “collaboration with a terrorist organization”. After nine months in prison and an appeal rejected, the cartoonist will see his sentence reduced from four to one year in prison. In 2019, he cannot come to Geneva to receive the International Prize awarded to him by the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation.

Zunar (Malaysia)

Zunar beats a sad record in 2015. The Malaysian then faces a 43-year prison sentence – unprecedented for a cartoonist – for having denounced a vast case of state corruption. Under house arrest, he was accused of sedition on the basis of a 1948 law protecting any attack against the government. In 2016, when his trial was postponed, he received the International Press Cartoon Prize in Geneva. Two years later, thanks to the coming to power of a new government, he will see the prosecutions against him abandoned … But here he is again recently accused of sedition. In the 2021 world press freedom ranking established by Reporters Without Borders, Malaysia occupies a poor 119th place … but far ahead of China, 177th out of 180.

Gábor Pápai (Hungary)

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the chief physician of the Hungarian National Public Health Center affirms in spring 2020 without flinching that the vast majority of deaths are due to pre-existing pathologies. Gábor Pápai then publishes in the daily Nepszava a caricature showing this professional wondering if Jesus would not have also died of a comorbidity … Ally of President Orban, the Christian Democratic People’s Party immediately accuses the designer of blasphemy, who will be condemned for “attacking the human dignity of the complainant and his religious faith ”. Or how to pass political censorship under the influence of religion. A sad first in a member state of the European Union.

Ann Telnaes (United States)

“Watch out for social networks!” also announces the exhibition created in Le Locle. Ann Telnaes had the bitter experience of it… In December 2015, she caricatures Senator Ted Cruz showing off two trained monkeys, a reference to a promotional video in which the candidate for the Republican primaries featured his two little daughters, which earned him accusations of instrumentalization of children. The Texan supporters then trigger a storm of denigration of the designer who will see the debate slip. It is less the drawing of Ann Telnaes than her status as a woman who will be attacked, with messages going as far as calls for rape, pushing the Washington post to withdraw the contested cartoon. And the Pulitzer Prize winner for publicly worrying about the harmful power of networks.

Xavier Gorce (France)

“Beware of cautious editorial staff!” In January 2021, while literary news imposes incest in social debates, Xavier Gorce interweaves in a drawing featuring his famous penguins this sensitive theme and gender issues. Deemed by many to be transphobic and insulting to incest victims, the drawing was withdrawn and the editorial director of the World issue a public apology. Feeling disowned by his employer, Xavier Gorce resigned immediately – he now works for Point and recently signed a series of designs for The weather. Whatever one may think of the offending caricature, there is here a dangerous advance in the cancel culture – erase all traces of litigation rather than launching a true and healthy debate of ideas.

Martial Leiter (Switzerland)

Sometimes also, “beware of self-censorship!”. In 1975, the magazine The illustrated, now a dashing centenary, commissions Martial Leiter to paint a portrait of Federal Councilor Kurt Furgler. As a great artist that he is, the Neuchâtelois accentuates the features of the Saint-Gallois, exaggeratedly lengthens his face. “To draw a federal councilor with a skull is really insulting,” the editor-in-chief of The illustrated by refusing the drawing, which will then be taken up by the satirical newspaper The tile. There was a time in Switzerland when attacking the army, the banks and the Federal Council was frowned upon. But times are changing … “Today, laughs Martial Leiter, quoted in the exhibition, politicians are proud to exhibit a caricature of themselves in their office.”

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In Geneva, Chappatte and press cartoonists face up to freedom of expression