Where are all the women cartoonists hiding?

Shamanthi Rajasingham receiving her first prize in climate cartoon contest Sri Lanka


“So how many women cartoonists are working in our newspapers?”

My daughter Dhara, 13, asked me this simple question earlier this month when I was involved in judging Sri Lanka’s first contest of cartoons on climate change, organised by the British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK.

I tried to come up with an answer, and couldn’t think of a single woman cartoonist who works for a print or online media outlet in Sri Lanka. That, despite my long association with the media and also being a great admirer (and collector) of good cartoons.

Later that day, at the awards ceremony for winning and commended climate cartoonists, I posed the same question to leading Lankan cartoonists Wasantha Siriwardena, Winnie Hettigoda and Dharshana Karunatilleke. They too couldn’t name one immediately; later, a single name was mentioned but it’s not one I recognised.

Clearly, cartooning is still a very male dominated profession — but that might soon change, going by the active participation of young women in the climate change cartoon contest.

Shamanthi Rajasingham

In fact, the first and third prize winners were both women — respectively Shamanthi Rajasingham and W M D Nishani. They beat close to 200 other contestants to get there.

Additionally, there were 6 women among the 22 commended cartoonists, and one woman among those 11 who were highly commended — judged on four criteria. See all winning and commended entries.

W M D Nishani

Okay, the four judges were all male (among us, two professional cartoonists). But during this entire judging process, the identity of artists was withheld and we only knew each entry by a number. In fact, we discovered the names (and gender) of artists only at the awards ceremony.

This would be encouraging news to Dhara and all other aspiring young girls and women who want to pursue careers in media. Let’s hope at least some of the women contestants in the climate cartoons contest would end up being more than just hobby cartoonists…

Meanwhile, it’s not just Sri Lanka that has a shortage of women engaged in cartooning, and awareness of their contribution is lacking. A quick Google search brought up a book titled “The Great Women Cartoonists” by Trina Robbins (Watson-Guptill Publications, 2001). Reviewing it in TIME, Andrew D Arnold wrote: “Name three women cartoonists who worked from 1900 to 1950. Okay, just name one. Couldn’t do it? Neither could I until reading a new, invaluable book…”

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Climate cartoons: When less is definitely more!

While politicians, scientists and activists were jostling in Copenhagen at the crucial climate conference, I spent a few hours this week laughing my head off about climate change.

That’s when I judged the Sri Lanka entries for the cartoon contest on climate change, organised by the British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK.

Joining me on this enjoyable challenge were professional cartoonist Wasantha Siriwardena and environmentalist Nimal Perera. We started off with close to 150 entries – many of them good, and some excellent – and ended up with a shortlist or 30 or so of the best.

That’s all I can say about it for now, since the final selection of winners will only be made in January 2010. In the meantime, I’ve been looking at many climate related cartoons inspired by the Copenhagen conference. Here are some that particularly appealed to me…

Last chance, by Erl

CLIMATE SUMMIT OF COPENHAGEN! by ismail dogan

copenhagen 09 logo - by samir abdl-fatah ramahi

by David Horsey

by uber

Making fun of climate change: Calling all cartoonists…

Cartoon courtesy CSE India

My mentor Sir Arthur C Clarke was fond of saying that there is nothing too serious in this world that you can’t make fun of it. (He should know – he once wrote a funny story about the end of the world, the mother of all disasters!)

On this blog, I’ve written about creative efforts at being seriously funny – for example, making fun of HIV/AIDS, and poking fun at politicians through political satire on television.

I’ve also argued that, when it comes to commenting on our topsy-turvy times, no one can beat cartoonists for their economy of words. They offer us popular social philosophy that is piercing, witty and hilarious – all in an amazingly tiny space.

The British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK are currently running a cartoon contest on climate change open to Sri Lankan citizens from 18 to 35 years. They offer attractive prizes for those who can be seriously funny about this global crisis. The award winning and commended entries are to be exhibited in Colombo and Kandy in March 2010.

The deadline for submitting entries is 7 December 2009. More details here.

Declaration of interest: As a long time admirer of cartoons, I have agreed to be on the national selection panel.