One Thousand Words (And Counting)

My sister and I paid a visit to the “Relentless Resistance in Palestine” art exhibit featuring a collection of Carlos Latuff’s work. It was organized with the efforts of fellow bloggers Izzi and Duried.

Latuff’s work has a very comic book feel to it. Like a snapshot out of a Marvel series. Some of it symbolic with a frozen image that speaks for itself and some of it requires a bit more when it comes to words.

It’s similar to what we’ve come to expect from our own Emad Hajjaj.

Suffice to say that it was a bold collection of artwork, I ended up breaking a vase and I bought myself a little book to show some support.

But naturally, this is not what this post is about…

Caricatures have become historical documents in the past century. One can look back at certain images that capture the tone of an era; be it Nazism, fascism or the Cold War. We connect with these images and they’ve become a new form of telling history. Rarely do comprehensive history books come without such caricatures. It is a commentary.

Seeing Latuff’s work reminded me why some times caricatures are not as descriptive as they can be. At times there are certain limitations to an idea and at other times it will flourish under the guide of a brush.

Beware, beware and beware: This is not a criticism of Lattuf or Hajjaj or anyone in particular; I’m merely lending voice to thought, or rather words.

Some times I’ll look at a caricature and think “wow, that really says it all” and some times I’ll look at one and say “that doesn’t say enough” or “I wish the situation was that simple”.

It’s the job of an artist to whittle down something so great as a crisis or a conflict into a single representative frame to portray to his or her audience. It’s a way of capturing their attention. Similarly, politicians tend to use the debating term “10 Words” to connect something say as complex as foreign policy, into a condensed version the masses can connect with.

The problem (when it comes to art) is that while it may be enjoyable, entertaining and might even cause you to pause and think, I find them to be at times lacking.

When you look at such art work, tiny thought bubbles begin to form around your head, all of them carrying single words. We’ll sometimes try to take each word and in a game of mental scrabble piece the pieces together to make sense of what we’re seeing.

Draw a conclusion; create a statement.

At times the artist makes it easy for you.

Other times it’s a lot more difficult.

In the latter situation when I’m usually thinking “I wish it were that simple” it’s usually because of the complexities of reality behind their artistic portrayal.

When I think history, when I think conflict, when I think Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Darfur, Somalia. When I think occupation. When I think resistance, freedom, sovereignty. When I think war. When I think diplomacy and when I think resolution…

These are not one word statements.

These are fractional themes of our ongoing reality. They are gateways to an ongoing history that is now.

And they cannot possibly be whittled down to one word statements. They can’t be contained within a single frame.

In my mind, they need all the words they can get their hands on.

So yeah, maybe a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words.

The trouble is trying to figure out if those words mean something and if they’re enough to mean anything at all.



  • well said naseem!

    I think artist tries to give you an idea, but what change could it make..that’s the question.

    I think the effect of caricatures and art has been significantly reduced due to the emerging technologies and the critical modern life changes.

  • wished i cud be there myself. not to be the critique or anything, just a supporter. but i have to say, i find hajjaj’s work very very expressive and to the point, as an abstract “artist”, i dont draw anything deffenite coz i like that viewers relate to it whatever background they come from, and i assume thats what happened there too. they prolly just wanned every viewer to feel something uniquely personalized, not something the artist wants to say, or else, it wud have included text.

    donno i might be mistaken, but thats my 0.02$ 🙂

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