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MoADOPH’s Behind the Lines 2023

Kate Midena & Ethan French, GIFs, sculptures, puppetry: New mediums embraced in political cartoon exhibition Behind the Lines 2023, ABC News, 30 November 2023

Artificial intelligence, the Voice referendum, the cost-of-living crisis, King Charles III’s coronation and the Matildas.

These are just some of the events featured in political cartoon exhibition Behind The Lines for 2023, at Canberra’s Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD).

Stephanie Bull is the director of MoAD, and said this year’s cartoons are a “fun, accessible and interesting [way] to share and explore what it means to live in a democracy like Australia”.

“There is no doubt many of the works will elicit a smile and a chuckle,” she said.

“But there is also a serious side. This exhibition asks us to laugh, but it also asks us to reflect, discuss, listen and learn.”

Housing_Fiona Katauskas_Guardian_30th March 2023
A cartoon on housing by Fiona Katauskas, featured in the Guardian in March 2023.(Supplied: Museum of Australian Democracy).

The theme of this year’s exhibition is ‘All Fun and Games’.

However Barrie Cassidy, chair of the board of Old Parliament House, which houses MoAD, said the cartoons also explore heavier topics.

“If there’s one theme that comes through strongest of all this year, it’s cost of living and housing,” he said.

“It’s a lesson to governments that they can’t ignore, because cartoonists are very astute judges of politics.

“They’ve got a keen eye for what cuts through, and they are the issues they were focusing on more than anything else.”

Old cartoons, new tricks

While devotees of the annual exhibition will certainly have their appetite for cartoons satiated, this year, for the first time, the exhibition also boasts a new, non-traditional cartoon section.

‘Out of the Frame’ showcases a selection of GIFs, mixed media sculpture and puppetry works from cartoonists in 2023, and highlights “forms of media used by political cartoonists beyond the more traditional pen, ink and paper or even static digital drawings”.

Out of the frame MOAD 2
‘Out of the Frame’ showcases a selection of GIFs, mixed media sculpture and puppetry works from cartoonists in 2023.(Supplied: Museum of Australian Democracy).

“This year we have expanded on the traditional notion of what is a political cartoon,” Ms Bull said.

“We hope this connects with our traditional audiences, and we hope this also helps us reach new audiences.”

One such work is Girls Light Up, an animated GIF by Glen Le Lievre, who was 2021’s political cartoonist of the year.

His GIF shows a family crowded around the television watching Australia’s women’s soccer team the Matildas as they verse Denmark in the World Cup.

“The cartoon oozes optimism and pride in the Matildas’ achievement,” exhibitions curator Alex Walton said.

“These new formats give [cartoonists] the power and the opportunity to reach new audiences beyond just newspaper readers, and, in some cases, to find different ways of earning money from their craft.

“[They] have changed my understanding of what political cartooning can be.”

Out of the frame MOAD
The exhibition also boasts a new, non-traditional cartoon section, ‘Out of the Frame’.(Supplied: Museum of Australian Democracy).

‘Accidental’ artist is 2023’s Cartoonist of the Year

This year’s Behind the Lines features 125 works by 46 cartoonists.

But the gong for MoAD’s Political Cartoonist of the Year was given to The Guardian’s Fiona Katauskas, who has been in the industry since the 1990s.

“I was extremely surprised,” Katauskas said.

“It is the greatest joy and privilege to be part of this absolutely fantastic exhibition.”

Katauskas became a political cartoonist “accidentally” after studying politics at the Australian National University and working in overseas aid and human rights.

A redundancy led her to turn her love of drawing cards and cartoons into a full-time job.

“I’ve always been a big political junkie and social justice has always been a big interest and passion of mine,” she said.

“I feel super fortunate that I’ve got a job where I can focus on that, and get paid for it.”

AI_Fiona Katauskas_Guardian_3rd June 2023
This “AI” cartoon by Fiona Katauskas originally featured in The Guardian on June 3, 2023.(Supplied: Museum of Australian Democracy).

Katauskas said witnessing cartooning’s growth and evolution over her time in the industry had been a “joy”.

“One of the most fantastic things to see over recent years in Behind the Lines is the growth and inclusion of a whole lot of younger and more diverse cartoonists, who are also showing us how cartooning is evolving,” Katauskas said.

“When I started cartooning 27 years ago it was me, Cathy Wilcox and Judy Horacek … it’s a mostly male profession all across the world, not just in Australia.

“But over the last few years, to see so many young women coming up, for me, it is such a joy.”

A woman in a green cardigan and stripy top stands in front of some framed cartoons.
Fiona Katauskas is the Museum of Australian Democracy’s 2023 Political Cartoonist of the Year.( ABC News: Ethan French).

Like many other cartoonists, Katauskas’s work this year has focused on climate change, the cost of living, artificial intelligence, and the housing shortage.

“2023 has been a year full of not-so-great news,” she said.

“There’s been such disengagement from news by the boarder public, so if you can still keep people engaged in issues with a bit of humour, then I think that’s the right approach.”

But Behind the Lines this year also holds Australia’s democracy at its heart — seen in both the cartoons on display and in their creators.

“[The cartoonists] are from different backgrounds, different styles and forms, different values and opinions, ages and experience,” Ms Bull said.

“They are a diverse community that encourages us all to engage with ideas and opinions which may differ from our own; to see the humour and the brevity, but ultimately to remind us that freedom of speech and opinion is possible, because we live in a free and democratic nation.

“This is what we see on the walls of Behind the Lines.”

Behind the Lines 2023 opens on November 30 at Old Parliament House in Canberra.