Breaking the silence through humour? Cartoon art and activism
Raphaela von Weichs
(Université de Lausanne)
Monika Salzbrunn (University of Lausanne)
Paper short abstract:
When uncensored, cartoons can become politically engaged forms of art and activism. In my paper, I will be looking at humour in Cameroonian society in present times of civil war. Can humour break the silence of the 'public secret' (Taussig 1999) ?
Paper long abstract:
Cartoons, par excellence, are carefully composed semiotic signs appealing to humour. They capture the reader's imagination through derision, mockery, ridicule and critic. James Scott even considered humour as a powerful weapon of the weak. However, when faced with repressive power relations, laughter may get stuck and humour may turn into anxiety. Then, Edward Hall's understanding of humour as key to understanding structure and society is subverted through intimidation and fear. Humour becomes the target of those who feel ridiculed, this may be a political regime or the society at large. In my paper, I will be looking at the humorist divide of Cameroonian society in present times of civil war. Can humour break the silence of the 'public secret' (Taussig 1999)? Can it counteract the violence of military occupation and of militants as presently to be seen in Cameroon's extreme North (Boko Haram), Southwest and Northwest (Ambazonien). Embedded into the historical and contemporary context of political satire in Cameroon, I will present the case study of a cartoonist who became an activist by drawing cartoons on civil war and founding an artivist group that engaged in critical art on political violence. As a corollary, I will discuss the social mechanism of auto-censorship and thus the reification of the public secret through domesticated political satire.
Limits and prospects of African humour