As part of the 'Confluence' festival celebrating India in Australia, the Museum of Australian Democracy brings us an exhibition on prolific political cartoonist Ajit Ninan. Snuggled inside Old Parliament House in Canberra, the grand building features a series of small spaces that shoot off broad sweeping corridors, a perfect site for this intimate exhibition.
The main exhibition space is the size of a decent bedroom, or what would have been a mid-sized office for the ministers of old. The colours are warm reds and oranges with soft lighting. There are several small illustrations framed around the room, and a silent projection plays in the far corner. The modest display mimics the way that Ninan’s cartoons first present to the viewer. They are simple small sketches, some in colour, and mostly unassuming in presence. But when you look closer, there lies the searing political commentary, the unashamed condemnation of political figures, the concisely captured complexities of everyday life.
Political cartooning is a very intriguing artform. It is a practice prevalent across the globe and shows us how active critique is absolutely essential for political and social systems. The simplicity and humour indicative of the artform is the key to its success. Refined 'just so' to a single image, it allows the artist to deliver an impactful message and reach audiences.
A further dimension to this is the state of the modern democracy: over-saturated with media, news and information. Ninan steps outside of the circus to remark on just how absurd things can become as we attempt to navigate our way through a democracy increasingly directed by bureaucracy, technology and economics. Furthermore, the modern democracy is heavily peppered with individual egos, committed to their own agendas. Ninan assertively examines the double speak of politicians to determine what they are in between the vapour of what they say.
For those of us not expert in the political landscape of India, do not fear: each illustration is accompanied with a helpful explanation to fill you in. Otherwise the show resonates very comfortably with Australia's own rich history of political cartooning and age-old tradition of vocally challenging government.