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← Dictators hate political cartoons -- so I keep drawing them

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Showing Revision 11 created 02/18/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. [This talk is delivered in Spanish
    with consecutive English translation]
  2. (Rayma Suprani: Speaks Spanish)

  3. Cloe Shasha: When I was a little girl,

  4. I used to draw
    on all the walls of my house.
  5. (RS: Speaks Spanish)

  6. CS: Until one day, my mother
    got angry and told me,

  7. "You can only draw on one wall.
  8. Don't draw on any others."
  9. (Laughter)

  10. (Speaks Spanish)

  11. That was the first time I experienced
    an act of totalitarian censorship.

  12. (Laughter)

  13. (Speaks Spanish)

  14. But a lack of freedom
    stimulates creativity and empowers it.

  15. (Speaks Spanish)

  16. Many years have passed since my childhood,

  17. but throughout my formal studies,
  18. I found myself drawing
    in the margins of my notebooks
  19. instead of paying attention
    to my professors.
  20. I studied journalism in college
  21. with the intention of expanding
    my communication and writing skills,
  22. but the only thing
    that I felt connected to in life
  23. was drawing.
  24. (Speaks Spanish)

  25. I was born in a democracy,

  26. in a country called Venezuela,
    which is now a dictatorship.
  27. (Speaks Spanish)

  28. For 19 years,

  29. I was the daily cartoonist
    for "El Universal,"
  30. one of the biggest newspapers
    in Venezuela.
  31. I really enjoyed translating political
    and cultural current events into drawings.
  32. (Speaks Spanish)

  33. In the year 2014,

  34. I got fired from my job at the newspaper
    over a cartoon that I drew
  35. alluding to the health care
    system in Venezuela.
  36. I drew a flat line of a heartbeat monitor,
  37. but I intentionally drew
    the heartbeat line
  38. in a way that resembled
    the signature of Hugo Chavez,
  39. the former president of Venezuela.
  40. (Laughter)

  41. (Speaks Spanish)

  42. All of this happened
    after the newspaper was bought

  43. by an unknown company,
  44. and some of us suspect
  45. that it was the Venezuelan government
    who was behind that deal.
  46. (Speaks Spanish)

  47. My work as a cartoonist
    became more and more of a nuisance

  48. for the dictatorship.
  49. They have no tolerance
    for any freedom of expression
  50. or free thinking.
  51. (Speaks Spanish)

  52. After I got fired,

  53. I started to feel unsafe
    in my own country.
  54. I received anonymous calls
    and death threats.
  55. I was mocked publicly
    on national television.
  56. I was eventually forced out of Venezuela,
  57. and I now live in Miami, Florida,
  58. where I am free to be
    my own editor for my work.
  59. (Speaks Spanish)

  60. A political cartoon is a barometer
    of freedom in a country.

  61. That's why dictators hate cartoonists
  62. and try to eradicate everything
    that involves humor
  63. as a mirror for social
    and political issues.
  64. (Speaks Spanish)

  65. A cartoon involves a delicate balance
    of ideas and drawings

  66. that reveal a hidden truth.
  67. (Speaks Spanish)

  68. And a good cartoon is one that conveys
    a plot of a full-length movie

  69. in a single frame.
  70. (Speaks Spanish)

  71. A cartoon needs to communicate
    the core of a story with its precision.

  72. And when it succeeds,
  73. its message can have the effect
    of inoculating people
  74. with a dose of skepticism.
  75. (Speaks Spanish)

  76. Cartoons are drawn
    from observation and analysis.

  77. They are inspired by muses of mythology,
  78. as well as classical, modern
    and paleolithic tales.
  79. (Laughter)

  80. When we are told that a modern-day emperor
    is wearing new clothes,

  81. cartoons reveal that the emperor
    just might still be naked.
  82. (Speaks Spanish)

  83. At one point in my career,

  84. I drew pigs and compared them
    with politicians and national guards
  85. who were responsible for stopping
    peaceful student demonstrations.
  86. One day, when I got back to my office,
  87. I had a letter on my desk.
  88. (Speaks Spanish)

  89. The letter was from
    the Venezuelan Swine Federation.

  90. (Laughter)

  91. (Speaks Spanish)

  92. The letter said,

  93. "Please do not compare an animal
    as wonderful as a pig with politicians.
  94. (Laughter)

  95. Pigs are very friendly and noble,

  96. they can be a great mascot,
  97. they make good pets
  98. and they provide sustenance to us
    in the form of pork."
  99. (Speaks Spanish)

  100. I think they were absolutely right.

  101. I didn't draw any more pigs,
  102. but I did keep drawing politicians.
  103. (Laughter)

  104. (Speaks Spanish)

  105. A cartoon travels
    on an information highway,

  106. which seems like it has multiple lanes,
  107. but in reality, all of these lanes
  108. lead to a binary response
    of either positivity or rage.
  109. "I like it" or "I don't like it."
  110. Those are the only responses
  111. that govern democratic thinking
    on the internet.
  112. (Speaks Spanish)

  113. We have lost the space for nuanced debate,

  114. we have no time,
  115. so we simply respond
    with approval or disdain,
  116. and we let algorithms take over.
  117. (Speaks Spanish)

  118. But a cartoon is born
    from a space of deep, nuanced thinking.

  119. Creating a good cartoon
    involves repeated failures,
  120. draft after draft.
  121. And a cartoonist must shed
    their own taboos
  122. to spark a conversation,
    rather than a confrontation,
  123. through their work.
  124. (Speaks Spanish)

  125. In the year 2013, President Chavez died,

  126. and I had to think about what to draw
    as the cartoon of the day
  127. at "El Universal."
  128. I was personally happy
    that he had passed away,
  129. because I thought
    that the end of his power
  130. would potentially bring our country
    closer to freedom and better times.
  131. (Speaks Spanish)

  132. But there were many other people
    who were mourning the death of Chavez,

  133. so there was a divided
    sentiment in Venezuela.
  134. Some were celebrating,
  135. and others were crying
    at the loss of their leader.
  136. (Speaks Spanish)

  137. I felt stuck,

  138. I really didn't know what to draw
    in this historic moment.
  139. And I knew that I couldn't allow
    my happiness to seep into my work,
  140. that I should take the higher road
    and respect people's grief.
  141. So what could I draw?
  142. (Speaks Spanish)

  143. I spent many hours drafting
    and throwing out papers.

  144. My editor called me and said
  145. everything was late
    for that day's newspaper
  146. and asked me when I'd be done.
  147. It was in the middle of the night
    that the idea came to me.
  148. And we then published a cartoon
  149. that represented
    a historical moment in time.
  150. (Speaks Spanish)

  151. A fallen king chess piece in red.

  152. (Speaks Spanish)

  153. A good cartoon has a lot of power.

  154. It can generate action and reaction.
  155. That's why a cartoonist must
    exercise their power responsibly,
  156. showcasing the truth
  157. and drawing without
    the fear of consequences.
  158. (Speaks Spanish)

  159. Having an opinion has a cost,

  160. and in some countries, that cost is high.
  161. (Speaks Spanish)

  162. In Venezuela,

  163. many young people have been killed
    for protesting peacefully.
  164. There are men and women
    who are stuck behind bars
  165. as political prisoners.
  166. So over the years,
  167. I've drawn the faces of imprisoned women,
  168. because I don't want them
    to be forgotten by the community.
  169. (Speaks Spanish)

  170. This year at an event
    called El Foro Penal,

  171. which is a criminal forum
  172. where a group of lawyers do pro bono work
  173. for Venezuelan political prisoners,
  174. a young woman approached me and she said,
  175. "I was imprisoned,
  176. and then you drew my face and my story.
  177. It's because of that drawing
    that people knew who I was.
  178. Your cartoon helped me survive
    my days in prison.
  179. Thank you."
  180. (Speaks Spanish)

  181. This was a moment that meant a lot to me,

  182. because I had found a way to collaborate
  183. with the memories
    of my country and its people.
  184. (Speaks Spanish)

  185. Last year, I started making
    drawings about immigration.

  186. I drew my own world, my fears,
  187. my suitcase, my roots
  188. and everything that I had
    to leave behind in Venezuela.
  189. I also drew my joy
    in the face of this new opportunity
  190. as an immigrant in the United States.
  191. (Speaks Spanish)

  192. From there, I worked
    on a series of drawings

  193. that represented the experience
    and psychology of immigration.
  194. (Speaks Spanish)

  195. Being an immigrant
    is like moving to another planet.

  196. At first, you don't understand
    anything about your new world.
  197. There are new codes, a new language
  198. and unfamiliar tools
    you need to learn how to use
  199. in order to adapt to your new life.
  200. (Speaks Spanish)

  201. Being an immigrant is the closest thing
    to being an astronaut

  202. who landed on the moon.
  203. (Speaks Spanish)

  204. Over time, that series of drawings
    became a traveling exhibition,

  205. called "I, Immigrant."
  206. And the exhibition traveled
    to multiple cities,
  207. including Miami, Houston,
    Madrid, Barcelona,
  208. and we're hoping for more places.
  209. (Speaks Spanish)

  210. The show has become
    a meeting space for the diaspora,

  211. for people to gather and recognize
    their shared experiences of suffering
  212. that come with immigration.
  213. (Speaks Spanish)

  214. What I want these drawings to convey

  215. is that an immigrant is not a criminal.
  216. An immigrant is a person
    whose life has been broken.
  217. A person who has very likely
    been separated from their family
  218. under inhumane conditions.
  219. Who has been forced to leave their country
    in search of a better life.
  220. (Speaks Spanish)

  221. A drawing can be a synthesis of a place,

  222. a universe, a country or a society.
  223. It can also represent
    the inner workings of someone's mind.
  224. For me, drawing cartoons
    is a form of resistance.
  225. (Speaks Spanish)

  226. A cartoon is like a Rosetta stone.

  227. If we throw it into outer space,
  228. a future alien would be
    able to know with certainty
  229. that in the past,
  230. we once had a civilized world
    with free thinking.
  231. (Speaks Spanish)

  232. That one wall that my mother gave me
    the freedom to draw on feels infinite.

  233. And it's for that reason
    that I am still drawing.
  234. Thank you very much.

  235. (Cheers and applause)