The National Library of Australia’s (NLA) new exhibition Inked: Australian Cartoons does what only the finest of history teachers can, enlighten its audience about the past while keeping them thoroughly engaged and entertained.
It does so by walking us through some of the most monumental events in our country’s modern history via the medium of cartoons, showcasing 135 of Australia’s finest illustrations.
We see the First Fleet arrive, Federation, the Great Depression, WWI and WWII, and the Dismissal, right through to some of our famous modern day leadership spills.
NLA Head of Exhibitions Dr Guy Hansen told Canberra Weekly the exhibition is about conveying the manner in which cartoon illustrations came to Australia with the First Fleet, to then prosper and flourish from there.
“We’ve got a number of strong historical themes, a cross-section of artists and a range of different periods, and I think we are able to tell a story of how cartooning has evolved,” he said.
The NLA holds over 14,000 cartoons from dozens of different artists, covering the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 right up to present day political satire, with everything in between.
For Hansen, the task of narrowing that selection down to the 135 on display was painstaking.
“The challenge was to survey that collection and find works that would be good for a display.
“We would examine each work quickly, make an assessment as to whether it spoke to us and still had something to say for a contemporary moment, or that it had a really significant moment or personality in history or was by a significant artist.”
Hansen said the role cartooning has played in Australia has taken many forms since 1788.
“Cartoonists initially provided amusing illustrations for magazines and papers but, over time, they developed their own voice for commenting on the news.
“By the second half of the twentieth century, many cartoonists had emerged as fully fledged social commentators,” he said.
Inked: Australian Cartoons is on display at the NLA until 21 July. Free entry; nla.gov.au