Iraqi cartoonist takes a jab at corruption, political power

The artist’s work shows how a small wooden object used for sitting can be transformed into a state of schizophrenia in which the normal concept of the chair becomes a callous quest for power.
Sunday 10/11/2019

BAGHDAD - For his latest exhibition, Iraqi cartoonist Khudair al-Humairi chose 36 cartoons that summarised corruption in and around political power in a manner symbolic in its general outlines. He chose “Chairs” as the title for the exhibition because his cartoons focus on the object and concept of the chair as a symbol of political power.

Humairi said he finds inspiration in Iraqi politics and politicians who desperately cling to positions of influence and power symbolised in his cartoons by chairs.

In this exhibition, Humairi focused on a theme represented by the chair. This common object becomes the means by which he encapsulates the bitter reality of Iraqi politics, exposing the hypocrisy of politicians who have wreaked havoc on life in Iraq.

The artist’s work shows how a small wooden object used for sitting can be transformed into a state of schizophrenia in which the normal concept of the chair becomes a callous quest for power, influence, domination and political terrorism as well.

Thus, Humairi’s cartoons, in which this everyday object is the central character, decry the absurdity of politics and its harmful effects on human destinies. The artist skilfully uses irony and dry humour to unveil this absurdity and expose the hypocrisy of politicians. His simple, yet powerful cartoons reflect his long experience in this difficult art form.

Humairi uses simple and light lines to draw familiar figures that people can easily identify while exaggerating certain features, a characteristic feature of cartoon art, to critically thrust the political symbolism of the object chair, with all of its negative connotations, into the collective consciousness.

“The chair is one of the most common pieces of furniture and the most familiar to us because we use it daily in our lives. The object, however, has become widely distorted by its associated connotations of power, dominance and influence,” Humairi explained.

The chair is a familiar object in the imagination of plastic artists for aesthetic and philosophical reasons. Vincent Van Gogh’s chair, for example, is one of the most famous chairs in paintings, while the monumental wooden sculpture of a chair with a broken leg by Swiss artist Daniel Berset stands outside the UN building in Geneva.

When the chair is transposed from the realm of familiar furniture to the realm of politics, it becomes an actor in popular theatre farces widely circulated in the Arab countries in general, and a favourite topic of biting political jokes. These new features of the object circulate and grow in the popular consciousness, making it possible for cartoonists such as Humairi to encapsulate them in expressive and powerful cartoons.

With just a few simple lines in 36 scenes full of wit and irony, Humairi captures the attention of viewers and excites their sense of humour. Some of his cartoons bear no titles because the message is obvious. Others have titles to bridge a given political reference with the drawing and involve the recipient in the ridicule of this scandal they call the “seat of power.”

When they are present, titles become support conduits to reveal the nature of the chair as a political tool.

In Humairi’s cartoons, chairs push other chairs off cliffs, get shined and become pegs for family trees. Politicians literally nail themselves to chairs or fight each other with legs broken off chairs or, in another highly expressive cartoon, tightly cling to shaking chair legs while the title repeats a famous political quip: “We are holding on to the political process.”

Humairi’s skill as a cartoonist is obvious. In one snapshot, he deconstructs the ridiculous political reality and exposes the ugly face of the greedy and corrupt conspirators on this familiar, benign but so symbolic home object.

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