Provocative political cartoons on show in Canberra as Behind the Lines exhibit looks back on 2022

Home Arts Provocative political cartoons on show in Canberra as Behind the Lines exhibit looks back on 2022
Provocative political cartoons on show in Canberra as Behind the Lines exhibit looks back on 2022

Political cartoons are the witty and provocative parts of news sites that offer audiences food for thought and, often, a laugh. 

The cut-through visual commentary is sometimes even embraced by politicians themselves — but usually only when it’s about their political rivals, otherwise the aesthetic blows can leave a sting.

And now, some of 2022’s best cartoons have gone on show in Canberra as part of the annual Behind the Lines exhibition.

Held at the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) within Old Parliament House, the exhibition offers a satirical look back at the year that was.

A cartoon of coalition politicians in the chamber with flags, placards and drums.
Canberran David Pope’s impression of the Coalition government amid heavily attended, eclectic protests in the nation’s capital. (Supplied: The Canberra Times)

Predictably, former prime minister Scott Morrison has been featured heavily in the 2022 collection.

While Mr Morrison was rejected by voters at the polls in May, in contrast, the nation’s political cartoonists have memorialised him as a popular muse.

The 30th Australian prime minister was depicted in a number of contexts, including running away from a bear wearing an ICAC shirt, sitting in a boat and eating a pie with the text “I don’t hold a bucket, Mate,” and hiding in a room while a teal female symbol loomed outside. 

A close up photo of a middle aged man smiling, with a dark shirt against a blurred background.
David Pope has been named Cartoonist of the Year for a second time, after first winning in 2012. (ABC News: Tahlia Roy)

The exhibition also crowns a Cartoonist of the Year, which in 2022 was awarded to the Canberra Times’ editorial cartoonist, David Pope.

He described his profession as a “weird craft.”

“It seems weird to be getting paid to draw pictures about the news of the day,” Mr Pope said.

“There’s not many of us doing it … and it can be a tricky job at times.

“Sometimes there’s an easy joke to be made, but there are other times when you want to capture the nuance and say something a bit more considered.

“A cartoon can be a simple gag, an attempt to capture the emotion of a moment, or an attempt to actually intellectually dissect an argument.”

‘The value of a free press’

A cartoon of Scott Morrison tackling a child who represents wage growth.
David Pope capitalised on former prime minister Scott Morrison’s unfortunate election campaign blunder when he accidentally tackled a child. (Supplied: The Canberra Times)

During the 2022 federal election campaign, Mr Pope depicted political leaders in often unflattering contexts to send messages about issues that concerned voters.

When accepting his award, he said he was moved by the current protests in China, where people were not afforded freedom to speak truth to power.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to be able to work where we’re not persecuted for what we do,” Mr Pope said.

“You see the value [of a free press] when people in other countries are trying to win those rights to freely express what they believe.”

‘Sniffing around after the caravan’s moved on’

A cartoon figure in a boat about to crash into a large iceberg lettuce with the text Cost of Living.
Cartoonist Matt Golding’s Titanic pun about an iceberg lettuce which came to symbolise the nation’s cost of living woes. (Supplied: The Sydney Morning Herald)

About 100 works have been highlighted in the MoAD display, with many offering a masterclass in puns and parallels. 

Cartoonist Matt Golding’s work titled The Cost of Living Iceberg was a clever nod to the Titanic after the leafy vegetable’s price tag reached $11 and came to symbolise the nation’s economic pressures. 

Two cartoon people watching the prime minister announce the First Nation's voice to parliament referendum on TV.
Cartoonist Cathy Wilcox responding to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s proposed referendum on a First Nation’s voice to parliament. (Supplied: The Sydney Morning Herald)

Cartoonist Cathy Wilcox, who has been named Political Cartoonist of the Year three times in the past, had a number of illustrations featured, including her impression of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese calling for a respectful debate around a referendum on a First Nation’s voice to parliament.

“The change of government has allowed for conversations about things that had been easily dismissed for quite a while as being the material of elites or woke people … but it turned out they were the concerns of many mainstream Australians,” Ms Wilcox said. 

“It can be easy to think that if you wake up with a new government, everything’s going to be dandy, but as cartoonists, we have to remain skeptical about every promise.”

She said, lately, cartoonists had been handed a plethora of material to use to hold leaders to account, unfortunately though, it had been doom and gloom. 

“We’ve got floods, fires, the pandemic and now world conflict,” Ms Wilcox said.

She said despite those issues being covered by all news outlets, cartoonists had to find a way to give new meaning to the issues, describing her work as “sniffing around after the caravan’s moved on.”

A wire coat hanger shaped like a gun, dripping in blood with the words U.S. Supreme Court: All in a week's work.
Cartoonist Megan Herbert offered up a simple design with a complex message after decisions by the US Supreme Court. (Supplied: The Sydney Morning Herald )

While most cartoons employed humour to land a message, some topics have been viewed by creators as too important to be made light of. 

One example was by cartoonist Megan Herbert, who sketched an arresting image of a gun-shaped coat hanger in response to the United States Supreme Court overturning Roe V Wade.

And Ms Herbert’s powerful commentary on abortion access and gun violence represents the very essence of what the exhibition stands for —  pictures can sometimes better convey messages, when words simply fall short. 

The 2022 Behind the Lines exhibition is on show at MoAD in Old Parliament House, Canberra. 

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