By Azara Jaleel

In a Shakespearean play the court’s clown or the jester is given the license to speak the truth in a context where no one else dares not, critiquing the characters and their actions for the benefit of the audience. Humour has been a potent tool to reveal truths unabashedly by artists on political, social and economic questions throughout time to which this edition of ARTRA Magazine explores the significance of the works of Sri Lankan artists, caricaturists and cartoonists Aubrey Collette (1920 - 1992), Bevis Bawa (1909 -1992) & Gihan de Chickera (b.1978).

The most famed ‘43 Group caricaturist Aubrey Collette’s works are of prominent political and social figures of the early to mid-1900’s of Ceylon/ Sri Lanka. His caricatures present witty commentaries of the foibles of the depicted personality, sometimes ceaseless vanities or perhaps idiosyncrasies that sum up one’s life mission with swift lines in effortless accuracy. The first few opening spreads of the magazine begin with the colored prints of his popular works of the ‘Seven Prime Ministers Series’ since 1948, juxtaposed with eminent scholars and intelligentsia of the times including Tarzie Vittachi, the internationally renowned journalist who was the youngest editor of the oldest newspaper in Asia, The Ceylon Observer and the recipient of the prestigious Magsaysay Prize (1959) for 'Emergency 58’ in his book on the 1958 racial riots, and G.P. Malalsekera OBE, academic, scholar & diplomat of utmost eminence.

Collette’s caricatures merge with those of Bevis Bawa’s in this edition of ARTRA Magazine’s Comics & Caricatures with their respective rendition of Yvonne Gulamhusein, the glamorous socialite of the times, bringing to light Bevis’ critically observant farcical depictions of his friends of importance. Whilst popularly known for his prowess for landscape designing and his charming abode, Brief Garden, which we explore in great detail in David Robson’s portrait on Bevis Bawa in the forthcoming pages and Juliet Coombe’s article for ARTRA’s Art & Living segment for this edition, the caricatures featured expound upon Bevis’ discerning drawings. His artistry in my opinion is characterized by his innate love for authentic people of jocund personalities and his profound wit which he reflects in his honest and satirical commentaries of those depicted. This edition features selected works from his exhibition in 1981 at the Sapumal Foundation, Colombo which includes Harry Pieris himself, the Founder of Sapumal Foundation and one of the key artists of the ‘43 Group, Lieutenant Colonel C. P. Jayawardene who was awarded the MBE for the Military Division in 1944, Deshamanya Al-Haj Badi-ud-din Mahmud, politician and former Minister of Education to name a few, drawn in grotesque fashion, yet in all grandeur.

Reflecting the present predicament of Sri Lanka in all honesty, are the works of Gihan de Chickera that swiftly slay the truth of the day with a sharp-edged knife, in an allegorical fashion. His clever use of animals represents human traits that critique the world we live in impeccably. The imagery of the animals not only symbolize and satirize potent subject matter, but also help us see ourselves in animals, whilst also demanding their right to respectful living. His work on page 47 that depicts the best-known modern example of satirical anthropomorphism, George Orwell’s novel ‘Animal Farm’ (1945) amidst other political readings of imagery aptly, in my opinion, characterizes one of his notable agendas with visual metaphors. Amongst other riveting perspectives, de Chickera also addresses and critiques timely matters of feminism, corruption, the coronavirus pandemic and economic downfall to name a few, cohesively embodying the bleak realities of our times in both comical and critical fashions.

Featuring over 60 caricatures and cartoon drawings collectively of the three presented artists, this curated collection of ARTRA Magazine’s Comics & Caricatures edition consists of works published or exhibited from 1946 to September 2023. Each work was selected upon its importance in addressing and dissecting a critical question of the time in exquisite draughtsmanship and creative prowess alongside distinctive caricatures that reflect poignant representations of those depicted. How rewarding a task this was for me on a personal note! Researching the works of the featured artists, collating their works of art from foundations to private and public collections, early publications to newspapers that date back to the 1930s, namely those of the Times of Ceylon, The Ceylon Observer and the Daily Mirror with the help of the editorial team and contributors of this respective edition, was one of the most gratifying experiences. For it brought to light, the importance of alternative reporting in journalism. Comics, caricatures and cartoon drawings are integral components as they offer perceptive insights in creatively stimulating forms, particularly in political discourses - with the ability to distil news in to an accessible and instant commentary of current affairs. Comical depictions can cast a powerful interpretation on the day’s news whilst also capturing the imitable persona of their subjects to humanise the topic they depict in artistic flair, exposing the grotesque and gruesome, in all honest

17th October, 2023 Visual Art | Paintings