Early 20th-century caricature drawings on exhibit
At a time when there was no radio, TV, cinema or the Internet, newspapers and journals exclusively carried the news of the day. With a single, provocative illustrated caricature aimed at the status quo, a defiant chord was struck.
The results could be deadly and revolutionary.
A challenging and timely exhibit, "Caricature and the 1905 Russian Revolution" explores the public impact of poignant portrayals of a corrupt, cruel and reviled czarist government and entrenched aristocracy.
"Caricature and the 1905 Russian Revolution" opens April 1 at the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, Room 100.
The latest developments in Russia recall, for many, the days of Soviet-style totalitarianism, and the history lesson in the exhibit is a chilling reminder of what's at stake when a populace rises in opposition to a ruling regime, says Robert Justin Goldstein, exhibit curator and research associate at the Center for Russian and East European Studies.
"These caricatures (in the exhibit) were created inside and outside of Russia because what was occurring in the country resonated around the world," says Goldstein, who also is emeritus professor of political science at Oakland University. "The power of these images reminds us that the struggle for human rights is one of the great themes of 19th-century Europe."
While the Russian Revolution of 1917 is more popularly known and explored by historians, the uprising 12 years earlier cast seeds for the broader insurgency, which ultimately led to overthrowing Czar Nicolas II and the installment of Bolshevik-style communism.
In 1905 a massive strike paralyzed Russia. Thousands of Russians demanded political, social and economic reforms. The czarist regime responded with what Goldstein calls a brutal crackdown. More than 15,000 protestors were killed, and 100,000 people exiled to Siberia.
Contemporary caricature often is relegated to political cartoons. While there may be more varied styles of caricature, the impact of today's political drawings pales compared to the power of caricatures created a hundred years ago, says Goldstein, who published a book on caricature censorship in 19th-century France.
Perhaps the most popular types of caricatures appear in satirical and comic skits, such as those on TV shows "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show." Since the mid-1970s, U.S. presidents have been satirized on "SNL."
But today's focus aims at laughs and entertainment, rather than a sustained attack on a person, institution or symbol of power.
A hundred years ago in many countries, publishing an unflattering lampoon of politician or an influential member of the aristocracy would bring a stern rebuke, censorship, imprisonment or physical harm.
"A caricature resonates with what's in the public mind," he says. "It builds on what's in the atmosphere, making it more concrete and clear to the masses."
Materials on display include a range of original caricatures created during and in response to the 1905 Russian Revolution. Among the works are depictions ridiculing Czar Nicholas II, and renderings that challenge the official line of the reason for quelling public protests.