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Cartoons Interpreting Political Perspective

Draw Your Weapons, Anderson Gallery at Drake University 

Closing Friday, Jan. 24, 2014


Detail from “The coming man’s presidential career, a la blondin” (Source: Devon Page)

Response by Devon Page

Politics is a field in which the correct answer is rarely obvious, particularly when interpreting earlier political documents such as the U.S. constitution under the lens of contemporary issues. Subsequently, conflict arises between two or more opposing sides, each of which claims to have the correct political perspective. This conflict, though inherently political in nature, overflows into the cultural and everyday social aspects of the lived human experience. Socrates said it best, “those that do not take an interests in politics, politics takes an interest in them.”

The Draw Your Weapons exhibit at the Drake University Anderson Gallery addresses topics of political conflict with civil war cartoons from Harper’s Weekly. Each cartoon depicts a major political issue of post revolutionary war & pre-post civil war era United States and is accompanied by comparison cartoon representing a more contemporary political issue: for example, a Harper’s cartoon titled Mistress Columbia  illustrates the early constitutional interpretation debates and is paired with a cartoon on Obamacare.

The satirical and otherwise social commentary expressed in the drawings is undeniable. Even more undeniable is the brilliance in which each cartoon expresses these political ideals. The faces of the cartoon characters show intense emotion and the style of the drawings creates an effect which makes them ‘leap’ from the walls; this arouses the viewer’s imagination by providing both entertainment and ‘food for thought’. Various drawings in the exhibition use cultural caricatures to represent opposing sides of a particular political issue. One drawing uses Greek mythology and the story of baby Hercules and the two headed snake to express opinions on the growing rift between secession and union during the civil war period.

The Draw Your Weapons exhibit gives unique historicity and perspective regarding major political events of the civil war era. The expertise of drawing technique, visual intensity of the works, satirical elements, commentary, and several factors combined create a powerful exhibit with lessons for all ages. I certainly recommend seeing this exhibition. 

Devon Page a student at Drake University majoring in philosophy and politics.