It seems appropriate to be writing this post now in the wake of South Africa’s foremost political cartoonist, Zapiro’s trial with Jacob Zuma over one of his particularly controversial cartoons (published in 2008). It’s a cartoon I have mixed feelings about myself but I liked Zapiro’s own self defiant retort...
I had the privilege of attending an evening lecture by Jonathan Shapiro (aka Zapiro) a few weeks back. I was intrigued by the fact that he started an architecture degree at the University of Cape Town. Although he never finished it (and later went on to study graphic design and then cartoons), it was a place of creative exploration for him. As an anti-apartheid activist during these years, he discovered that cartoons and caricature had a powerful ability to communicate a strong message, often subversive and controversial. Thus it was (and still is) a potent political tool.
Something he loves about creating a cartoon is that anything can happen on the page. The space on the page appears in two dimensions yet comes to life as soon as the pen hits the paper. There is an emerging process from the beginning of the conceptual idea to the final outcome. And the final cartoon image we see is many pages later. The cartoon-maker (as I use this term specifically) uses techniques such as metaphor, parody, exaggeration and comedy to communicate a message through visual means. This visual means is often more powerful than words because not only are our visual senses stimulated but the process of abstracting the idea using the various techniques connects the image to a powerful and cutting message. Somehow you can say more in this suspended imaginary world, because it is abstracted from reality and remains undisturbed. You are offended by an image, yet you smile and laugh at the absurdity. You laugh without realising that the joke is actually on you.
One of the most potent pieces of work he showed us used empty space to communicate the message. He said that such a surprisingly simple piece still required many draft iterations till the final outcome was achieved. What I like about this particular one is that it demonstrates the power of space, whether it be occupied or empty (the space that fills or the space in between) and here lies the architecture in it. Here is another creative discipline that by an action that changes a space is able to communicate something that might have otherwise remained silent.
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My thoughts as I go about visiting interesting places, attending exhibitions and conferences, and the architectural world we live in.