Share this article

Telling history with cartoons


THE image curator at Museum Africa, Linda Chernis, is excited yet a bit nervous about her first exhibition, which is coming up in mid-October.

Titled Cartoons in Context, it features a selection of old and new political cartoons. Through accompanying text, the cartoons are contextualised to give visitors bits and pieces of South Africa’s history.

Dating back to the late 1700s and going right up to this year, the selection is a feast for those who like their political history served with a bit of humour. Included are major historic events and themes such as colonial settlement, the Anglo Boer War, the rise of the National Party, apartheid and the move to democracy.

Well-known cartoonists are represented, including Abe Berry, Dov Fedler and Zapiro, as well as the early British satirists, Isaac and George Cruikshank.

More contemporary drawings from the Sowetan cartoonist, Sifiso Yalo, cover the major political and social highs and lows of the last seven years. They include President Jacob Zuma’s rape and corruption trials; the resignation of the former president, Thabo Mbeki; the trial of the former chief of police, Jackie Selebi; winning the rugby World Cup in 2007; Eskom electricity hikes; crime and violence; xenophobia; Julius Malema; and hosting the football World Cup recently.

Asked from where the idea for the show came, Chernis gives an excited chuckle, rubs her hands a little and looks up with a twinkle in her eyes.

“The idea started very small … We had an exhibition meeting and everyone was expected to come up with a story idea so I sort of pitched this one because we have a lot of images in our archives, and then from there the idea just grew and grew.”

She expected the exhibition to be a short-term showing, but according to the museum’s chief curator, Ali Hlongwane, it is going to be a long-term presentation, which means anything from 18 months to a couple of years.

“It would be nice to see the museum exhibiting more history exhibitions, especially those types that tell the history of Joburg, because I believe that we are a city on a gold mine of history.”

Chernis joined Museum Africa in April 2009. Growing up, she was always exposed to history and culture. Her father, who has a PhD in history, would take the family to museums and cultural sites, “so he had a major influence in my life”.

Though her family moved a lot, she attended high school and university in Grahamstown – she studied history at Rhodes University – and now lives in Melville with her partner and their dog.

“Joburg is quite exciting because there are lot of things happening in this city. I must say there is never a dull moment in Joburg because not only is it fun, but it is also hard working and rather ambitious.”

The Cartoons in Context exhibition opens at Museum Africa in Newtown on Wednesday, 20 October.