On display at Zarrow these days is a small artform usually never seen as more than a clipping from a newspaper. Political cartoons are seen by most as good for a giggle, but it is rare that they are taken as artfully, historically or even politically relevant. However, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities had another take.
Their display insured that we left with this knowledge: there are enduring questions, conflicts and imaginings of the perfect America and many stereotypes we still must challenge, all of which can be looked at through “the Art of Politics.”
The display contained pieces from as early as 1869 to 2015 and contained historical greats like Thomas Nast, Charles Bush, Thomas Worth and J.J. Enright as well as the Tulsa World’s Bruce Plante.
A variety of issues were covered in just the small space that is Zarrow’s display area. One cartoon by Bruce Plante depicts two football helmets. The first is the Washington Redskins captioned, “unnecessarily offensive,” juxtaposed with a helmet with a Saltine on it for a team called the Washington Crackers simply captioned, “ditto.” This was the kind of simple yet thought-provoking humour that ran throughout the building.
Unlike that piece, not all of them challenged stereotypes. One called, “Who Can Longer Doubt That Woman Rules the World?” by Thomas Worth in 1869 wields stereotypes as a weapon to make a satirical claim about the changing roles of women. It shows a woman helping her husband out of a carriage and expressing indignation with the driver for taking off before both of his feet were on the ground.
Another cartoon called “Sorosis,” by Charles Bush also poked fun at women by imagining a government being run only by them as mostly bickering and gossiping, with a few women nursing babies, painting or having tea.
The range of issues and opinions was impressive, and the display made an effort to explain the claims it made.
“If nothing else, history reminds us that many of the questions we debate so fiercely today are not ours alone, but instead make up part of a common past,” read one of the plaques.
A precursor to the artwork expressed the evolution of the debate about how democracy should balance the interests of the rich and poor alike.
Another plaque explained, “The deceptively simple format of the cartoon can often clarify the complexity of politics by starkly exaggerating our disagreements … the simplicity of the cartoon can speak eloquently to the sense of loss or terror that conflict evokes.”
A wounded teddy bear and a field of gravestones marked with the reasons a black person was shot by the police mark the painful and elegant way that political cartoons have been able to speak about tragedies when words fail.