Thai food for thought

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My daughter just returned from Thailand with a backpack filled with photos and art. These giant political cartoons–paintings the size of theatrical backdrops–came out to the street for Democracy Day, basically a political demonstration against Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (left figure in top photo).

I was stunned by their scale, and amused by their content, which was not so different from the content and style of our own political cartooning. This one shows Dubya as a big dog leading around Thaksin, the little dog, on a leash.

The animal approach is no surprise; it’s universal. My daughter tells me the biggest selling movies of all time are animal movies like Jurassic Park, where every culture can relate to the creatures and the issues.

All of this brought me to thinking about the place cartooning has risen to in recent art making in this country. I was wondering if it’s partially a product of a generation raised on He-Man and Thundercats and the mythology of Star Wars, in which monsters and robots or cyborgs can be good guys or bad guys.

These self-contained worlds avoid the intractable issues we face of pollution and poverty and provide a scripted antidote to powerlessness and frustration. Just like George W. Bush is escaping the mess he’s making in Iraq by flying us to Mars, so does Matthew Ritchie (shown with some of his art work) make up a world of his own, safe from reality.

The cartoon world is also a lot friendlier than the art world of Jackson Pollack and Barnett Newman.

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