Political Cartoons and Caricatures by Tanmaya
Arrows to Direct the Eye About Me by Suneet Chopra, Art Critic, Writer
Tanmaya Tyagi is someone I have known since he was a child. He is the son of Hari Prakash Tyagi, an artist and critic who died young. He was a friend of mine for whom I had a great deal of regard. So it is with a sense of considerable satisfaction that I write this critique. Behind my assessment of his work, I have neither my friendship with his father nor the fact that he has been to my old school, St. Columba’s, and has been, of course, contributing work to Peoples Democracy. They reflect his journey through life; but that is all. It is the body of this work that I rely on entirely. And it pleases me.
Tanmaya’s caricatures and cartoons are the product of a trained hand. He firmly holds the belief that bright ideas are only one part of creativity and it is their execution that determines the final impact. This is why I pay special attention to execution. One could have a projectile but its mode of delivery is what counts if it hits its target or not. Tanmaya’s strong drawing achieves that purpose.
Its most striking aspect comes out in his caricatures. They highlight a cartoonist’s skill for two reasons. First, they have no captions to fall back on, and, secondly, the cartoonist has the physical features of the subject as a constraint on what he or she can do with a caricature. If he then acquires originality, as he does in his caricature of Che Guevara as a revolutionary and not a t-shirt icon, I consider it a success.
Tanmaya has done an admirable job. When we look at Barrack Obama, we see the smile going beyond the face, rather like that of the Cheshire cat in Lewis Carrol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ where the cat disappears, leaving only a smile behind as the ultimate fraud. In his caricature of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, we see how his left eye is detached from his face. One wonders if this work was done after he lost support of the Left, or before it? If it was before, then Tyagi exhibits a prophetic quality which is very important for a critique of everyday affairs. If it was after, then one is attracted to how he uses the subtlety of detail to highlight a reality that not everyone may notice ordinarily.
Of his cartoons, I am attracted to those that rely least on the written word. Two cartoons on the price rise are striking. One, on the fuel price rise shows the fuel pipe striking at a helmet-clad motorcyclist like a snake. The lethal and fatal aspects of the fiscal attack of the government on the mass of people are highlighted with a very simple image indeed. The other cartoon is the arrow on a graph piercing through India’s rural poor. Rising graphs are meant to cheer the viewer, but here it does the opposite, reminding one that not all the rising graphs of shining India are matters to be cheerful about. The rising graph of prices is one that is a matter for serious concern. Closely connected with the fraudulent exercise of depicting plunder as prosperity, is his icon of the US Statue of Liberty with a begging bowl instead of a torch. The American dream of today is based on a massive debt – not the least of it from Peoples China!
The cartoonist then homes in on other frauds, like Baba Ramdev’s attempt to launch a political party that has him tied up in knots or Mayawati with her garland of Rs.1000 rupee notes that shows her target to be the control of the Reserve Bank of India rather than the prime ministership of India, which is only a means to an end. His take-offs on the ‘Save the Mask’ efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) shows it to be a worthy partner of the Congress in the game of fraud. This sharp political insight is clothed in a simplicity I have seen in his father’s work and which is evident in the aesthetics of his own work now. But one thing is clear; Tanmaya has a more pointed vision than his father’s, which is only natural, as he belongs to a generation ahead.
Today, the fraudulent nature of international affairs, business and politics, not to speak of advertising and consumerism, gives the cartoonist ample opportunity to turn our eyes towards what is going on around us in a world that is dominated by scam-tainted bankers who make merry on the sops they are given by governments at the cost of the welfare of the citizens at large. In such conditions, the cartoonist can at best become the ‘eye’ of the people. Tanmaya has done just that without losing the quality of his aesthetic training and excellence in execution. He deserves to be congratulated for that.Again and again.