Saturday, 12 March 2016

Women in Cartoons

Pic challenges expectations showing 3 business women in hijabs
Three Businesswomen in the city © guingm5

Cartoons have impact. You can see an article and not really read it. You give up before the end and miss the punchline. If you see a cartoon, you see it all at once. Cartoons can puncture preconceptions and make you laugh.

Goldfish attention span
The average human attention span is said to be worse than that of a goldfish. Thanks to our smartphones our focus is now down to 8 seconds. Goldfish can focus for a full 9 seconds. 

Cartoon of goldfish with big eyes in bowl
A goldfish concentrating... ©Brian Goff

Cartoons have the ability to make a point in seconds. An ideal medium in the digital age.

Women in STEM
UCL invited 3 women cartoonists to speak about their work as part of International Women's Day. The idea evolved as part of the Athena Swan project to encourage more women into higher levels of science and academia. At lower levels, there is a 50/50 gender balance. Only 18% of women have reached professor level in biology. This is traditionally the science with the most women. Athena Swan looks at the whole culture to make positive changes for the future. 

Inspired by Charlie Hebdo
The cartoon project was the brainchild of John Martin, Professor of Cardiovascular biology at UCL. He was inspired by France's Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Eight cartoonists observed their work and drew over 80 cartoons. The aim is to display the results as a future exhibition. On the day, the work of three women present was on display:

Inviting outsiders in to observe and comment can prove dangerous. You can inadvertently find yourself in a cartoon, as Professor Martin discovered. A number of the cartoons commented on NHS bureaucracy and the digital dependence of modern medicine.  

Women cartoonists
All three women explained their early careers. They were not necessarily good at art from an early age at school. Few cartoonists are women. Fifty-seven men and just three women worked on the Charlie Hebdo book. Women are often afraid to be funny in public. Few women are comedians. Yet many women can be very funny away from the stage.

Clarity and observation
What makes a good cartoon? The clarity of an idea. A simple outline with a minimal number of words for impact. All three cartoonists highlighted the importance of observation skills. 

No-go areas?
Given the Charlie Hebdo background, they were asked about no-go areas. Judith Walker commented that she had reflected on the issue after the Paris attacks. Some people decide to be offended. Keeping to your own sense of principles is important. Violence against women was the no-go area mentioned.

Cartoonists are private people. They rarely have a public face beyond their cartoons. We know little about them. It is easy to make false assumptions. Many assume that K J Lamb is a man. 

Women in Burqas
Both Judith Walker and Kathryn Lamb have drawn women in burqa cartoons. Kathryn lived and grew up in Dubai until the age of 20. Judith has experience of working with refugees as an art therapist. She commented that the women that she has met have been very strong, bright and witty women. Under those burquas there is great humanity. There is a lot of giggling and a sense of fun.

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