The United Nations rarely has a sense of humour, but yesterday, to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the coinciding Human Rights Day, the UN opened the tightly sealed doors of its headquarters to the public, offering an exhibit of editorial cartoons entitled Sketching Human Rights. The show appears in the Visitors’ Gallery and will last until mid-January before beginning its worldwide tour, with stops in Jerusalem, Berlin, Wellington and Istanbul.
This exhibit was launched concurrently in Rome, as the UN-backed touring show Cartooning for Human Rights, a spin-off of the year-long tour Cartooning for Peace. As a project founded by Jean Plantu, one of France’s foremost editorial cartoonists, these shows have become a movement of sorts, reacting to the anger and riots that stemmed from the editorial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad early in 2006.
“There has to be a response to the condemnations launched by some Imams, but it had to be done tactfully so as not to fall into the trap of a too frontal attack, which would have been seen as blasphemous in the Arab world. A reaction was called for,” Plantu writes of the origins of Cartooning for Peace. “I do think that somehow there is a way to continue being critical, forceful and penetrating without hatred and, above all, without such a marked disrespect for the religious convictions of believers and non-believers alike.”
The first edition of Cartooning for Peace was shown in April of 2007 in Paris, now at Rome’s Archeological Museum, it is in its sixth edition. The exhibit features artists from Italy, Turkey, Kenya, Japan, and France. Boasting the great cartoonists American, Jeff Danziger; and Iranian, Hassan Karimzadeh, who is no stranger to the political power of cartoons having been imprisoned for his drawings in 1993.
Both exhibits are hoping to achieve similar ends—create awareness and dialogue about human rights issues around the globe, and examine the relationship between political satire and political power. For both shows, no subjects are off limits with Darfur, Iraq, racial discrimination and women’s rights being some of the topics presented.
The buzz around the movement and this exhibit in particular is simple: pictures are worth a thousand words. “We make drawings without knowing that we practice human rights every day. Our language is the cartoon. My first language is not English, it is not French. My first language is drawing,” said Plantu.