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'Cartoons for Future': Artists react to the climate crisis

Silke Wünsch eg
June 7, 2019

Building on the "Fridays for Future" demonstrations, an exhibition in Dortmund shows 100 cartoons by international artists commenting on the climate emergency.

Mona Greta: combination of da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Greta Thunberg' portrait
Image: BerndPohlenz

One hundred drawings by international artists are featured in the exhibition "Cartoons for Future." Portraying the school strike for climate, plastic in the sea, mountains of garbage, traffic chaos, water pollution or the exploitation of developing countries by Western corporations, the illustrations offer insight into how the global emergency is viewed from different parts of the world.

Students in Dortmund have also been taking part in the "Fridays for Future" demonstrations for some time already. The mayor of the city was so impressed by the movement that he wanted to show his support for the schoolchildren's concerns. He quickly came up with the concept of an exhibition with curator and artist Bernd Pohlenz. 

"A child who is now 4 years old will probably live to see the turn of the next century. And then you obviously start thinking about the future," said Pohlenz, who is also a father of six children and grandfather of four. As the administrator of the toonpool website, a collection of nearly 300,000 drawings by 2,500 artists from 120 countries, Pohlenz had access to this large pool of cartoons and selected exactly 100 of them for the exhibition.

The artists come from all continents, from countries as varied as the Netherlands, Australia, China and Burkina Faso — a reflection of the diversity of the drawings themselves. Thought-provoking, shrill, in color or black-and-white, some are outright funny or ironic while others play on dark humor.

The drawing for the exhibition's poster, the Mona Greta (top picture), was created by Pohlenz himself. He combined the famous painting by the humanist and naturalist Leonardo da Vinci with a portrait of the star teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg.

Cartoon 'Poverty': A mother with two children looks at food on a shelf with the word 'Inflation'
The fruits of the country are out of reach

From frequent flying to the exploitation of developing countries

The drawings of the exhibition are organized according to different themes, such as global meat production, cheap flights, politics, human rights and exploitation. Some artists point blame at various countries, depicting for example Germany's love of cars, the ignorant climate policy of the current US administration or Western countries stealing resources from developing countries.

One drawing mocks the so-called environmental zones established in Germany: It shows a 20-meter stretch of road that's car-free — but surrounded by a detour route clogged with stinking cars.

Cartoon 'What global warming?': Donald Trump driving underwater in a golf cart called Hoax
What global warming?

Another piece reacts to a statement by Christian Lindner, leader of the pro-business Free Democratic Party of Germany (FDP), who said in reaction to the "Fridays for Future" demonstrations that climate protection is "a thing that should be left to professionals." The cartoon depicts the Reichstag building in Berlin under a merciless sun, surrounded by an arid landscape.

Beyond the 100 drawings, Pohlenz is planning on adding a screen to display more cartoons, since many artists found the idea so good that they wanted to contribute additional works.

The "Cartoons for Future" exhibition's program also includes cartoon workshops and an international drawing contest. The show runs until August 18 at the Dortmunder U Center for the Arts and Creativity.