5 cartoonists who courted controversies for their work

On the 94th birth anniversary of cartoonist RK Laxman, here's a look at his colleagues (across time and borders), who — like him — have fearlessly spoken out through their artwork.

Written by Hemani Bhandari | New Delhi | Updated: October 24, 2015 7:24 pm
Top (L-R) George Grosz, David Levine, Plunto Bottom (L-R) Aseem Trivedi and Kurt Westergaard Top (L-R) George Grosz, David Levine, Plunto
Bottom (L-R) Aseem Trivedi and Kurt Westergaard

Cartoons have always been a critical medium to comment on society and politics, and for long it enjoyed a lot more freedom than other commentaries in the media. But, now, we live at a time when intolerance has reached a stage that even satires come with a disclaimer.

October 24 marks the 94th birth anniversary of RK Laxman, the “uncommon man” who raised the understanding of India’s “common man” through his penmanship. In his autobiography “The Tunnel of Time” he describes the common man as a “silent spectator”. His demise, earlier this year, was mourned by the country, and his legacy exudes courage and passion to put forth the common man’s voice, opinions and aspirations.

Laxman created many cartoons that were deemed controversial, including the one he drew in 1965 around anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu. But never did he allow himself to be bogged down by political or industrial pressure and power, inspiring others to do the same.

Here’s a look at five other cartoonists who have been in the controversy for their art.

1) Aseem Trivedi

In September 2012, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was charged for sedition for his cartoon that satirized widespread corruption in India. The move by the government was highly criticised by activists and artists across the country. One of his cartoons showed the Parliament building as lavatory buzzing with flies. His website where the cartoons were posted was blocked at that time.

2) Kurt Westergaard

In 2005, a Danish news daily, published a series of 12 cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist. Westergaard’s was the most contentious among them which showed Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. He has received numerous death threats since then. According to a Telegraph report, in 2010, a Somali Muslim entered his house with a knife and an axe to kill him.
This series created a furor in Islamic communities all over the world. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, since 2011, are a result of the cartoons they published in 2006, before which, they were sued by Muslim groups.

3) George Grosz

This German cartoonist from 19th century had his many of his cartoons make news because of his social critique of what he believed to be the decay of German society. He joined the military service and became disillusioned with the idea of German nationalism. “Shortly before Hitler seized power, Grosz moved to America to teach art and thus avoided Nazi persecution when his work was deemed ‘degenerate’,” says The Arts Story.

4) David Levine

The man, who was known for his caricatures in The New York Review of Books drew a cartoon of Henri Kissinger, the American diplomat known for his role in America’s political decisions. Levine depicted him laying bare over a woman whose head looks like a globe under a sheet which looks like America’s flag. The cartoon named “Screwing the world” was considered controversial and Victor Navasky, a long-time editor and publisher of the book “The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power” wrote, “In something like thirty years at The Nation, first as the magazine’s editor, then as owner and publisher, only once did the staff march on my office with a petition demanding that we not publish something.”

5) Plantu

Jean Plantureux, French cartoonist, who goes by the professional name Plantu, has been involved in many controversies. In response to Jyllands Posten’s Muhammad cartoon’s conflict, he drew one writing “I may not draw Muhhamed” and ended up drawing one. The cartoon was published on Le Monde’s front page on February 3, 2006. Plantu has drawn many controversial cartoons which have put him in the radar. In 2015, he drew a IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldier firing his gun at Palestinian civilians taking a jibe at Israeli Jews that was widely criticized.

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