Are you a politics junkie? Glued to Q&A every Monday? End all your tweets with #auspol? Or do you just need to brush up on the year’s events before Auntie Sal quizzes you over Christmas dinner? Whichever it is, Behind the Lines: The Year’s Best Political Cartoons 2017 is the fix you’re after.
In Behind the Lines, Australia’s best cartoonists poke their tongues at every intrigue and issue, from campaign funding to climate change. The exhibition has something to target everyone’s funny bone whether you like your cartoons simple (a jar of Vegemite as the ultimate Australian citizenship test in John Kudelka’s Take the Yeast) or convoluted (take a pause to make it to the end of First Dog on the Moon’s detailed rants – it’s worth it for the twist at the end).
This year’s theme is The Three Ring Circus, and you can tell the curators have gotten a kick out of grouping the works by which ‘circus act’ they represent.
This is a licence to re-live all the drama that 2017 could throw at us – from the Section 44 citizenship debacle to the one-man show of the Trump presidency. Yet the exhibition also makes time for small human moments. A favourite of mine was Michael Leunig’s Bootstraps, which shows a barefoot man sitting alone on the street with a cardboard sign that reads “Saving for the bootstraps to pull myself up by”. His archetypal Leunig half-smile walks the message home gently.
Political Cartoonist of the Year David Rowe features frequently throughout the exhibition, showing a ballsy irreverence for the biggest figures on the scene and a flair for stitching their features into the most unlikely and absurdist scenarios. Whether it’s birds, machines, Jabba the Hutt, or however he feels like reimagining our favourite politicians, he’ll go there. And, most bizarrely, it works.
Maybe we’ve had a rough year, or maybe cartoonists are just cruel and unusual souls. Either way, there’s no denying that there’s a running theme of pessimism in Behind the Lines. Thankfully, the curators have provided some light entertainment in the fantastic interactive area at the end of the exhibition, with custom-made board game tables for you and a friend to exercise your own cartoonist-like wit. I was particularly tickled by Australian politics ‘Guess Who?’, with images of political players taken from cartoons in the exhibit.
It’s all family-friendly, with nothing in any of the cartoons to push us over a PG rating. Many of the works are also accompanied by separate kids’ captions to help the little ones get a read on what’s happening (literally) over their heads.
After checking out the exhibition, the Museum of Australian Democracy’s very reasonable $2 entry fee lets you poke around the rest of Old Parliament House, which you should probably do anyway if you haven’t been there since year five camp. The original meeting rooms and offices are extra fun if you enjoy stickybeaking at other people’s stuff; they’re decked out as though it’s still the ‘80s and everyone’s just popped off on their tea break.
You can visit Behind the Lines downstairs at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House every day from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Find out more here.