The hilarious exhibition recalling the most significant political cartoons of 2019

The hilarious exhibition recalling the most significant political cartoons of 2019

Words by Joanne Brookfield

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It can seem like a simple little thing, a drawn image in a box that runs alongside a news story. However political cartoons can be among the most controversial and discussed items published in newspapers, given that cartoonists work without fear or favour, meaning no politician, party or policy is safe from their scrutiny.

Australia has a long and proud history of political cartooning, which is captured in Behind the Lines, an annual exhibition showcasing the most significant political cartoons from the prior year. Originally scheduled to be a free event during the now-cancelled Melbourne International Comedy Festival with reproductions of the actual cartoons themselves to be displayed on the walls of the Old Treasury Building, the exhibition will continue online until the end of May.

The theme for this year’s exhibition ‘The Greatest Hits Tour’ was inspired by the musical undertones of many of the featured cartoons. The Museum of Australian Democracy’s (MoAD) 2019 Political Cartoonist of the Year Jon Kudelka was commissioned to encapsulate the theme in the exhibition’s hero image, showing Prime Minister Scott Morrison rocking out on the roof of the federal tour van.

Joining Kudelka with their illustrated satire of 2019’s election year are 30 political cartoonists from across Australia, including Judy Horacek (who designed the Comedy Festival’s logo), multi-Walkley award-winning Cathy Wilcox, Fiona Katauskas, Andrew ‘First Dog on the Moon’ Marlton and Andrew Dyson.

The 80-plus artworks go straight to the heart of the most significant political moments for the year. Privacy, climate change, Julia Bishop’s resignation all get wittily eviscerated, plus bigger international events, like Brexit and the shooting massacre in Christchurch, also get addressed.

Tasmanian-based Jon Kudelka enjoys trying to “sneak things under the radar”, as he puts it. “You wrap up the bitter pill in some nice, sugary coating. You’re not meant to toe the party line, you’re not meant to comfort the comfortable. The idea is to give things a poke. If it’s funny that’s a bonus,” he says.

“Some cartoonists often produce three or four cartoons a day. Their editor then decides which to publish. Competing with the memes produced on Twitter can be an issue, trying to think of the nugget that someone else didn’t,” says Katie Dunning, Old Treasury Building Marketing & Digital Development Officer.

“Political figures receive pretty scathing reviews through the cartoons, but more often than not, the cartoon you least expect is the one hung on the walls of their office. They seem to enjoy the exchange,” she says. Dunning recalls one cartoonist telling her the subject of one of his cartoon’s mother once called him to ask if he could be less harsh.

“A good cartoon doesn’t tell you what to think, it just shows you another way of thinking about something. Irony is a vital part of surviving in a world where things aren’t even close to perfect,” says Kudelka. “Cartoonists get the latitude to say things that other people don’t.” We all thought 2019 was a big year. Imagine what the Behind the Lines 2020 exhibition will bring.

See the most significant 2019 political cartoons as part of Behind the Lines online now via the MoAD website