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Louis Vuitton Wins Fight for Censorship

French fashion company Louis Vuitton is (successfully) suing Nadia Plesner (29), a Danish artist and student at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, for a work she made featuring the Luis Vuitton-logo. The work is a large painting (350 * 776 cm) titled 'Darfurnica'. The description is taken from her website:

Darfurnica is a modern version of Picasso's Guernica. In our time, the boundaries between the editorial and advertising departments in the media are disappearing and entertainment stories about the lives of Hollywood celebrities have become breaking news. Apparantly a genocide in Darfur can be happening RIGHT NOW without being important enough to make headlines. This is unacceptable and I refuse to turn the blind eye to what is happening. 
In Darfurnica I have mixed some of the horrible stories I have learned about Darfur over the past years with some of the Hollywood gossip stories which made headlines during the same time period.

The work in question can be seen here.

Vuitton Louis Vuitton is apparently unhappy with the fact that in the painting, an emaciated African boy is holding a bag with a model and pattern closely resembling the 'luxury leather goods' that the company offers well-to-do Westerners. The company has begun a lawsuit, claiming 5000 euro per day that the work is still shown on the website and in art exhibits.

Yesterday, a court in the Netherlands ruled that the use of the Louis Vuitton look-a-like bag in the painting is indeed illegal.

In a broader context, the implications of this ruling for editorial cartoonists are staggering. If cartoonists are no longer able to make use of commercial logo's or company names (or anything too closely resembling it), making editorial art will become almost impossible. Any cartoons on the role of Shell in Nigeria will become illegal, as will drawing a link between McDonalds and obesity, and the thousands of cartoons on the BP oil spill should be removed from the Internet immediately, the papers and magazines in which they appeared shredded. These are just a few examples of the countless times brand names and logos (rightly) find their way into editorial art.

It is the role of editorial art to criticize, to create powerful visuals that make people stop and think. Darfurnica does just that.

In May 2010, the Cartoon Movement organized an international cartoon exhibition in Amsterdam about press freedom, There is more than one truth. For the exhibition, we asked well-known Dutch cartoonist Joep Bertrams to join the exhibit with a cartoon. The cartoon featured with this article was what he came up with; it was a great cartoon at the time, and it shows the predictive power an insightful cartoon can have.

At Cartoon Movement, we are vehemently opposed to any and all forms of censorship. With this article, we want to show our support for Nadia in her continued fight against Louis Vuitton. To support Nadia and her work, go to her website.

The legal battle between Louis Vuitton and Nadia Plesner started in 2008; read about how it started here.
Article (Dutch) on the website of De Standaard
Article (Dutch) on the website of NRC Next

Cartoon Movement App Now Available

Thumb_03_03_11 Editorial cartoonists and Apple have (had) a difficult relationship, caused by the somewhat zealous censorship policy Apple has in screening new apps. Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Fiore saw his cartoon app initially rejected in 2010, because it contained 'content that ridicules public figures'. 

Luckily, the Cartoon Movement App has been approved this week, and is now available. The app, CM Cartoons, is free and will supply you with a daily dose of editorial cartooning from around the world on your iPhone or iPad.

Hungarian Cartoonists Under Fire from Repressive New Law

Elected last year with a super-majority in Hungary's parliament, the right-wing Fidesz party and Prime Minister Viktor Orban passed a far-reaching media law giving the government broad power to regulate and fine media outlets it deems unbalanced. Hungarian newspapers printed blank front pages in protest and an international outcry soon followed.

Under the law, massive fines can be levied at news outlets for unbalanced reporting and offenses to "human dignity" and "public morality." Who has crossed the line of these incredibly fuzzy terms will be determined by the Media Council, composed entirely of members of the governing Fidesz party, who have already launched an inquiry into the left-liberal broadcaster Tilos Radio for playing a song from rapper Ice-T said to adversely effect the welfare of children.

While the EU declared the law as antithetical to its values, Hungary began its six-month term as rotating presidency of the European Union. Under pressure from the European Commission, Budapest revised some of the provisions, exempting reporters from foreign news outlets and blogs from mandatory balance in their coverage. These mostly cosmetic changes seemed to have dampened the EU uproar while keeping the core of the law intact for broadcasters and newspapers within the country.

I talked with three Hungarian editorial cartoonists and illustrators--Gábor Pápai, Joe Békési, and Péter Zsoldos--about how the media law will affect their work.

Matt Bors: The implications of this law are frightening if fully implemented. Assaulting the "human dignity" of politicians is what editorial cartoonists do for a living. How might this new media law effect cartoons?

Hungarian1 Gábor Pápai: The consequences of the law are scary indeed. However, we did get unexpectedly strong support from the European Union. This can keep those in power from the abusing it for a while, but I fear they will use it against us once the EU presidency is over. I have a feeling, like when the abusive head of family is busy nodding to the policeman’s warning, but he can’t wait for the door to close so he can remain with his family. Regretfully the EU is not going in the direction of a federal union that I would prefer.

Joe Békési:  This law is not dangerous to specific individuals, but editorial offices, publishing houses, and television channels that can be ruined or forced to continually self-censor. It will kill investigative journalism.

Péter Zsoldos: Since most of my work is caricatures, I would be strongly affected. I find those parts of the law specially alarming that give the right of deciding whether the content has been against the rules after the publication of the item. The trick is that the rules are flexible and all this is up to the Media Authority to decide what they find unbalanced.

Hungarian5 They have the right to impose fines which must be paid, if the court doesn’t annul it, within thirty days. Knowing how the Hungarian courts work, these decisions will take years. The Media Authority’s political composition is also alarming, as it was proposed and voted by the governing party, excluding the other parties from proposing candidates.

Bors: What kind of restrictions--legally or editorially--are already placed on editorial cartoonists? Have you enjoyed a good deal of freedom to go after who and what you wanted? There are always editors afraid to rock the boat, but I wonder most about politicians. Have they felt content to throw their weight around before in restricting a free press?

Hungarian3 Zsoldos: Until now, theoretically we had total freedom. And seldom did any official retribution happen. I must say, however, that there were many cases when after a caricature of an influential public figure was published, the paper suddenly stopped asking me for drawings. My colleague Fenekovács László had a caricature for which his paper was severely fined by the court for hurting privacy rights.

Békési: The promise of incredibly high fines for elusive things keeps editors from attacking power. The same applies for cartoonists. As you mentioned, they will fear rocking the boat. At the end of the eighties I had a little illegal print shop where I made leaflets and so on so I was feeling personally what I am speaking about. Now we went back into the past with that law. Lawmakers hope the terror of the high fines will enhance self-restrictions. It is a great trick of lawmakers that they want to use it after June when they'll be over the rotating presidency. Up to this date I don't know about any penalties.

Hungarian6 Pápai: Although I have been drawing political caricatures daily for the last two decades, I never encountered any ban or expectations of a political nature. We did have hostile acquisitions at some of the papers where I was published, but in those cases I simply walked to other papers. I can proudly say that I could always draw whatever I wanted.

Bors: Could you describe the state of editorial cartooning in Hungary. Is there much oppositional or hard-hitting work? Do media figures and politicians in Hungary take note of this work and it is seen as important to the general public?

Zsoldos: The Hungarian caricaturists are just as divided politically as our society. But basically we are free. It is mostly the publishers who tell you how far you can go with a caricature.

Pápai: Very few people are doing political caricature in Hungary. Most of these are now in the opposition, which can frustrate those in power. Politicians haven’t given opinions on my drawings directly, but the right-wing media, which is supportive of the present government, often attacks my work.

The deputy editor-in-chief of Magyar Hírlap, who I used to work for before it changed its political direction, compared my work to the Mohammed-cartoons, and he did not conceal that he sympathized with those who issue fatwas. In this article he incited violence against me. People commenting there publicized my personal data and address.

Another newspaper close to the government, Magyar Nemzet asked how long I will be allowed to depict the Prime Minister in a bad light. This is before the new media law. Because of all this I feel like these drawings are gaining importance, and drawing more and more attention.
Bors: How are your colleges at newspapers who work as reporters and editors taking this? Is this seen as an outrageous overreach that will be reversed or only the beginning of  a more long-lasting and further reaching campaign against a free press.

Békési: That is the fear and it is a very bad example in the EU.
Pápai: Around me most people feel that they are in this for the long haul, and that the government will exert a total control of public speech. This, however, is destined to fail, and even if their plans for a single-party constitution materialize, the quickly eroding power will be followed by a first constitutional amendment, which will be about freedom of speech in Hungary too.

Zsoldos:  On public radio, Mong Attila and the editor of the program were immediately sacked  because they protested the media law with a minute of silence. This is definitely an abuse, especially because the law will be in force only after June 1st, after the end of the EU presidency. And this sacking was decided not by the media authority, but by the leadership of the radio. Since then  several Facebook groups have been created to protest this decision online, and in street demonstrations as well.

Hungarian2 Bors: Will this law and its potential consequences change anything about what you do?

Békési: No, I don’t think so. I retired.

Zsoldos: It will definitely influence my publishing possibilities. The law threatens such high fines that it could immediately lead a paper into bankruptcy. Also, the “flexibility” of the law makes it impossible to decide what is unbiased. Compared to this situation, it would be even better if we had a censor at each company: this way at least we would know what is allowed and what is not.

Pápai: I don’t think it can stop my work. The main part of the work will be moved to the Internet. I might even have to work from abroad for a Hungarian audience. Marx says this about destructive power: the shoe cannot stop the growth of the foot, it can only distort it.


Gábor Pápai is the cartoonist for Népszava in Budapest. Joe Békési served as president of the Hungarian Cartoonist Association. He began cartooning in the late 1980s as part of the underground Sumizdat movement. Péter Zsoldos works a cartoonist and caricaturist for various publications in and outside of Hungary.


The interviews were conducted separately and edited for length. A special thanks to Tibor Várady, Veronika Kozma, and Redjade for translating.

Image credits: Zsoldos self-portrait, Békési self-potrait, Pápai on the Victor Orbán, Békési on the EU, Pápai on Gaddafi, Zsoldos on the media law. All images © their respective creators.

Interview with Sherif Arafa

Arafa1Editorial cartoonists may take their ability to freely respond to events in their own country for granted. For Egyptian cartoonist Sherif Arafa, his most scathing work was drawn only for his own amusement, then locked in a drawer where even his editor couldn't see it. For years, Arafa worked at Rosalussef, a state-run paper in Egypt, where he carefully butted up against the line of acceptable criticism--a line that once crossed has had grave consequences for journalists and opposition members in Egypt. 

Arafa is accomplished in a number of fields. He's a dentist as well as a popular author and motivational speaker that has lectured around the Arab world. For the last six months he has been employed as a staff cartoonist in the United Arab Emirates, where he is currently living. I interviewed Sherif about the uprising in Egypt, the censorship he faced there, and what he hopes will come from the revolution. 

Matt Bors: You were prohibited from drawing the former President of Egypt your entire career. On February 14 we were happy to publish your first cartoon depicting him. Did you ever think you would be able to draw Hosni Mubarak?

Sherif Arafa: It was impossible to cartoon Mubarak in my newspaper. But I made many cartoons about Mubarak that I kept in a locked drawer! To be honest, I didn't think I could publish them before Mubarak's death. I expected this revolution to happen when his son tried to take his position. The funny thing is, every year I make a cartoon called "The New Year Wishes" where I draw impossible things happening, like Israel declaring they will build settlements to give to Palestinians or Bin Laden apologizing to American and offering to build another Twin Towers. This year I was drawing another impossible thing, a book cover with a title "I Was The President by Hosni Mubarak." This was joke month ago! I didn't even finish this cartoon because it was too dangerous.

Bors: Until now you have had to criticize Mubarak in a roundabout way. Explain a little about "The Responsible" character you created to address the regime. In using that character were there still times where ideas were shot down by your editors?

Arafa: This character (the responsible, the official--same word in Arabic) refers directly to Mubarak. You can see this in his physical characteristics and age, and the context of the cartoon. Sometimes I made him play other roles, such as minister or officer, just to defend myself if something happened. Of course, I couldn't publish all the cartoons because sometimes it was so clear that I meant Mubarak. They became more sensitive to my cartoons when a top official (I don't know who) complained about them.


Bors: In your previous interview with VJ Movement, you were asked what would happen if you depicted Mubarak and your answer, "no comment," spoke volumes. Can you tell us now what would have happened to you?

Arafa: The Egyptian cartoonist Essam Hanafy has been arrested because he criticized a minister. The oppositions writer Abdel Haleem Kandeel was kidnapped, tortured and thrown naked at night on a desert highway. You could be fired, arrested on false charges, prevented from appearing on TV (remember I'm a motivational speaker as well!) or exhausted through fines until you to close your business--and don't forget the emergency law that allowed Mubarak to arrest anyone at anytime without a reason. All of these "options" crossed my mind when Abigail asked this question.

Bors: The military is in charge of the government for the time being. They say that within the next six months they will lift the emergency law that has been in place for 30 years and set up multi-party elections. Do you trust them to transition Egypt the way the protest movement wants? How would you like to see a new government set up?

Arafa: We trust the military, Matt. The protesters cheered up when they saw the military coming on the streets. may be it's something in our collective unconscious, that we know that the Egyptian military will never harm people because it's one of their highest values. I believe that the military really intend to set free elections and reforms. But the problem is the remnants of the regime who are planning to make a counter-revolution to save their authority. The next government should be civil and democratic. I don't think Egyptians will ever support a theocratic state. The only reason people were supporting The Muslim Brotherhood was that Mubarak was cruelly suppressed them, which made people sympathize since they were the only 'real' opposition against Mubarak. They have declared they want a civil state as well. For me, I will wait to see who has a better plan to vote for, although I hope the Noble prize winners Dr. El-Baradei and Dr. Ahmed Zewail run in the next elections.

Arafa3 Bors: In the western media a lot of was made of the use of social media by the protesters. What do you think of it being called a Facebook revolution?

Arafa: I prefer to call it The Egyptian revolution. In dictatorships, people create an informal society, meaning that when there is no real parliament or real media, people tend to create their own leaders and their own media. We have jokes about corrupted top officials--everyone knows these jokes! You don't say them in media, but they became part of the pop culture against the regime's will. So people talk and tell each other what they cannot say in media by using Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! groups, mailing lists, or any other way that let people communicate and think freely together.

Bors: You mentioned working as an inspirational speaker (in addition to being a dentist). What do you focus on? Is there any link between motivating people in that regard and how you view the purpose of your political cartoons?

Arafa: I'm not practicing dentistry now for time management reasons. It's difficult to work as a cartoonist and self-development specialist at the same time. As a cartoonist you focus on criticism and making fun of the problem, but as a self development author you have to be rational and give solutions. Completely different mentality! But I've made use of it. When I published a theory called Emotions Control System® I used editorial cartoons and caricature to explain part of it. I use cartoons in my lectures and a sense of humor in my book. For instance, some of my books titles are Why People Are Stupid and Get Rid Of Your Mind!

Bors: Wait--getting rid of your mind sounds like a bad thing.

Arafa: No, Matt, believe me it's not. Scientifically, our minds are messed up! Human cognition is primitive and can be deceived or misled easily. Our subconscious mind is playing tricks on us all the time. The best way is to get rid of your mind and follow the instructions to get you a brand new one! Of course I don't mean it literally, but it's my way of simplifying the boring scientific theories.

Bors: Were there any cartoons on the uprising in Egypt--from Egyptians or your colleagues around the world--that stick in your mind as being particularly inspiring or powerful?

IoJ6MyEqRJaByLd01VFaEg Arafa: The cartoonists on Cartoon Movement did a pretty good job and I thank them so much for being excited about democracy in Egypt. I love the Egyptian cartoonist Amro Selim because he directly makes fun of everyone. He works at a private newspaper so he has more freedom to draw what he wants. He was so funny that one of his cartoons became a topic of discussion in the fake parliament to find the best way to punish him. Fortunately, the parliament was shut down after the revolution! But I always get surprised by the Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff. He was drawing a very local and intimate cartoons about Egypt. Some of them are hard to understand if you are not Egyptian. He was supporting the revolution even before it started! I don't know how he was so passionate about the local Egyptian details. If he is reading this, I want to tell him: Good job!

Bors: In recent months you took a staff job at a paper in the United Arab Emirates so you weren't in Cairo during the uprising. Now that Mubarak is out, would you like return home and cartoon there?

Arafa: I cried in my office after calling my friend in Tahrir square! I wished I was there, but I was the only Egyptian cartoonist who has internet when Mubarak cut it in Egypt. So I used it to publish my cartoons to get worldwide attention against him. I wasn't sure if it was safe to visit Egypt anymore because of my cartoons. But now, I'm planning to visit Egypt frequently for my lectures and book signings. Now I want to do my best for my beloved country, whether I'm living in it or not.