Changing climate of cartooning

Women to the fore in largely male dominated field
By Malaka Rodrigo
The climate is changing and we don’t mean just the weather. The recently concluded cartoon competition on Climate Change organized by the British Council saw young women cartoonists claiming both first and third places in a field hitherto dominated by men.


Reindeers sunbathing in a North Pole that had lost its ice caps due to climate change was the theme of Shamanthi Rajasingham’s cartoon “Welcome to the North Pole” that won first prize in the contest. With Santa Claus in shorts and shades enjoying the sun, the cartoon was both eye-catching and effective.

“The cartoon just made me laugh the minute I saw it. It is uncomplicated and genuinely comical – a great advantage when satirising and often hard to achieve,” said the UK based cartoonist Michal Boncza Ozdowski who was one of the judges, commending Shamanthi’s confident draughtsmanship.

Michal is also a trustee of the Ken Sprague Fund which collaborated with the British Council to conduct this event coupled with a one-day cartoon workshop. Michal together with a panel of eminent Sri Lankan cartoonists, science communicators and Climate Change consultants had a tough time selecting the best cartoons from 400 entries.

The cartoons were judged on creativity, humour and subject relevance. Shamanthi, a 21-year-old undergraduate of the University of Colombo reading for a degree in English said the idea struck her while she was researching for a debate on climate change at the university. Christmas was also around the corner at the time so when she got to know about the competition it spurred her to use these familiar images. “I did not look through other environmental cartoons on the internet as I wanted to keep the novelty in my work,” Shamanthi said.

“If a picture is worth 1000 words, then a cartoon’s worth 10,000,” adds Shamanthi who is a firm believer in the power of this medium. In Sri Lanka though, cartoons mostly cover politics and subjects like conservation are sidelined. Shamanthi who is not drawn to political cartoons said she developed a special interest in the environment when she was learning art at an early age where she got the chance to study nature closely. She fears deforestation will be a major environmental issue in the future for countries like Sri Lanka.

Already using cartoons to liven up some of the websites she designs, she says the laptop she won as first prize will encourage her to continue cartooning.

Placed second was Dileepa Dalawatta’s cartoon ‘I pray for water not nectar’ which lampoons our naiveté in hoping that supernatural forces will somehow solve problems we have created.

“The cartoon is a funny eye-opener, a wake-up call of the type that is much needed today,” said the judges praising Dileepa’s work. Three other cartoons by Dileepa also won a ‘commended’ from the judges.

The third prize went to W.M.D. Nishani – a 27-year-old science teacher from Negombo. “When I teach science subjects, I’m often reminded of what could be our destiny if we destroy forests” Nishani said explaining her theme. In their citation, the judges acknowledged her effectively ridiculing the get-rich-quick mentality and pitfalls of our present suicidal culture.

With a flair for children’s illustrations, Nishani earlier won a UNESCO’s picture book illustration competition in 2006.

A special guest at the awards ceremony at the British Council was Camillus Perera, creator of the popular Sri Lankan cartoon character – Gajaman. Camillus started cartooning 45 years ago and is still giving life to his characters today.

“When I started, there was nobody to help me. Competitions and workshops like this are important to encourage young talent,” he said.

The winning and commended entries will be on display from March 25 to 27 at the British Council auditorium.

They can also be viewed at the British Council website

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