Political satire can be used as a powerful tool to focus attention on human absurdity, corruption, hypocrisy and injustice. Political satire takes many forms. Those of us in the visual arts use images—drawings, paintings and sculptures—to shine a light on our subjects. Unlike words, images attract attention and trigger an immediate reaction.
A strong image should require no explanation. The most striking satirical images combine irreverence with humor. The image alone should present the artist’s complete intention. My preference is to do caricatures of the people I am going after. But there must be more than just a recognizable caricature of the person. There must be story value; an idea, a statement to be made.
When Kim Jong-un succeeded his father, I knew I had a new subject to caricature. His unique features lent themselves to caricature, but it was not until he was declared a “military genius” that my sculpture took form. My sculpture presents him as a child with a toy airplane and a slingshot and he is dwarfed by an enormous nuclear missile that looms up behind him.
In political satire, art becomes an extremely powerful form of protest, especially in countries and under regimes where dissent and freedom of speech are forbidden.
Dictators and totalitarian rulers are irresistible targets for the political satirist. These kinds of dangerous, unjust egocentrics are used to having their way without opposition or feedback. Because of this they have a very unrealistic view of the real world and how it operates. They become ideal candidates for caricature because such egos cannot tolerate being humiliated or insulted.
Images can help us remember political prisoners; those who have been punished and imprisoned for having the courage to stand for what is right. Art can also shine a light on those who inspire us and provide leadership to oppose injustice in the struggle for basic human rights.
Art can reach people who might not be reachable by other means. Artists who feel a responsibility for those in need of help can use their talents to play a part in the dangerous and unjust aspects of life.
Jim McNalis is an American artist and former Walt Disney art director who lives in the US state of Florida. His views do not necessarily reflect those of The Irrawaddy. All captions are provided by the artist.