‘For a lot of women from African and Caribbean backgrounds, their parents don’t encourage creative careers – but I think there are a lot of women and girls who do want to do creative careers. I want to inspire black women and say to them ‘you CAN make this a career. You can be a woman artist’. I hope that exploring the history of women in cartooning and having this conversation paves the way for other women cartoonists to share their work with the world.” Sarah Akinterinwa
Taking the cartoon industry to new levels, Sarah Akinterinwa is an editorial illustrator, character designer, graphic designer, fine artist, and the first black British woman to become a New Yorker Magazine cartoonist. She is the creator and artist behind the Black-British cartoon Oyin and Kojo and is based in London.
She’s currently exhibiting her work in a new exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Fitzrovia alongside the ‘first professional female cartoonist’, a caricaturist and printseller in eighteenth-century Britain Mary Darly, so we took the opportunity to visit the museum whilst Sarah was there. Because Sarah is passionate about inspiring women to be artists, I asked Sarah what advice you would give to a young person wanting to pursue a career as a cartoonist. Her advice to any budding cartoonist is to draw every day, find your own style and rhythm, believe in yourself and be open to criticism. I thought after talking to her that I was pretty good at drawing at school, but nobody encouraged me to pursue drawing. Not my intimidating art teacher who complimented my work infront of the whole class and neither did my parents. Had they encouraged me perhaps I would have pursued it further. I found my own random way into working in the arts, but thought it would have been easier had I felt some solid encouragement from someone much earlier on.
For this thought-provoking exhibition, Sarah has created an exclusive collection of new pieces that share the stories of the people of contemporary London such as ‘The Next Generation’, ‘The Tired Server on Bond Street’, ‘The Busker in the Underground’, ‘The Influencer’ and ‘The Tourist’. Sarah’s work shares the same roots as Darly, capturing ‘her London in her time’, and the lives of the people around her. The show celebrates the diversity of London and inequalities that still exist and hopefully will inspire more girls and women to become cartoonists and share their reflections, as drawing cartoons is an incredible way to share stories. Cartoonists spend a lot of time making fun of people, but they also have the power to say things that are normally difficult to say through humour, irony and pictures and can highlight important issues. This made me wonder what I would draw and write to sum up my life at the moment. Or perhaps I could share something unjust or difficult to resolve that’s really bothering me at the moment in a cartoon.
One very important issue that was brought up during our visit is the topic of gender imbalance in the cartoon industry. It is common knowledge that white male cartoonists have monopolised the cartoon industry for ages and the Cartoon Museum themselves are addressing the gender imbalance of the cartoonists they exhibit currently (200 are men and 33 are women). We know that the U.S is ahead of the UK in addressing this balance and interestingly 60% of cartoonists in Egypt are women. Perhaps someone needs to draw a cartoon to stress the gender imbalance and help women cartoonists be taken more seriously. Maybe this would prompt the magazine industry to step up and print more women cartoonist’s work. Let’s hope this new wave of female creators emerging continues on and on. As how can we identify with stories if we only have one type of person sharing them? And it’s not as if there isn’t enough space online to share cartoons.
A Dialogue exhibition (11 August – 13 November 2022) explores the work of Sarah Akinterinwa and Mary Darly through an artistic dialogue reaching back 250 years.
Ticket info: www.cartoonmuseum.org
Written by Jules Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art.