For me there can hardly be any occasion for national awards if Stabroek News cartoonist P Harris is not considered. This is indeed one remarkable Guyanese artist; there is hardly ever a dull moment with his cartoons, he comes always and always with lively refreshing material. The brother has got staying power ‒ pure class.
There is no doubt many of them are invaluable, real ‘baad,’ and I’m forced to cut out and keep them, and amuse myself with them from time to time. I think that if a close analysis is done, we may be shocked to learn that they possess some sort of healing enzyme ‒ stress relief. I dare anyone to go through any number of his cartoons and at the end remain in the same mood as when they started.
This guy is not parochial; his drawings are authentic and authoritative, and with keen searching eyes he visits every nook and cranny, scouring and analysing the scheme of things in high and low places ‒ the impecunious and wretched condition of the dregs at the bottom of the ladder as against the blissful world of the rich and privileged. The brother sifts society thoroughly for his material which he presents back to them in artistic fashion. Whatever else his works are, they are provocative, frequently amusing and often have you in stitches, but they are never trivial and to be dismissed; as funny as they may seem there is an undertone.
And I must say that many times I am surprised at the large number of people who buy the SN and pay no heed to them, and moreso bewildered that quite a number often find them difficult to figure out. Thus I’m frequently denied the opportunity of indulging and sharing for a moment a piercing and amusing piece on our daily travesties.
It is true that what we constantly do becomes second nature and flows naturally, but one cannot deny that this medium does require a serious passion, a mental force and much observing, pondering and analysing, of being on the ball always. One must follow with precision not to miss a beat, and most importantly, be honest, avoid being prejudiced, and as much as possible be guided by events and the state of everyday affairs as they unfold through the mind’s eye. And this is what makes Harris large and creditable.
Look, you have just got to give it to the brother; whenever he caricatures a person, he makes you see deep down inside them, bringing out the very soul of his characters. My goodness! Look how he caricatures the Private Sector Commission head man Ron Webster smack-on from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head ‒ body and soul. Or the daily, ubiquitous nonsense that goes on ad nauseam, like that music cart hustler with his volume at a deafening pitch responding to a woman whose nerve is obviously being wrecked by it: “Lady ah can’t hear wha yuh sehin ‒ yuh wan hear peace and quiet, is who sing it?” Further, look at how he addresses the scourge of racism that keeps us fettered: An Indian
woman sits vending; from her features, style of attire and cultural accoutrements, her ethnicity is easily discernible ‒ this brother doesn’t play with details. She has an “I Love Guyana” emblem pinned on her dress. A media person who resembles the good doctor of English comes up to her seeking her opinion – ‘the man in the street’: “How do you feel about a black man becoming President?” She hesitates, ponders, thinks the question refers to Guyana, but the media man soon recognises this and interjects for clarity … “Er – ahm of the USA.” Relieved, she then exclaims “Ooh the United States!” and with ease proceeds to answer his question. Bull’s eye, one gets the picture.
Or take the one with AFC Khemraj Ramjattan, hard at work in his long boots, a rope tied around a coffin with the words “The truth about the PPP” dragging it along the muddy swampy “political landscape.” His sneer clearly reveals the bitterness and disdain he bears towards his former party. Or Dr Luncheon as a nurse attending to the late commissioner Henry Greene in hospital, and in response to a question from a media person: “Mind yuh own business.”
But the one with Rupert Roopnaraine which seems to be asking: ‘So what’s it going to be
Rupert?’ I consider to be a fine piece of work. Here he has Roopnaraine sitting in an upright posture leaning slightly forward on the stump of a palm tree in front of the PNC headquarters, staring serious faced. Forever good at prodding the mind of the reader/observer, Harris meticulously includes every detail to paint a picture and convey exactly what he has conjured up in his head.
So there is an APNU tag on Roopnaraine’s shirt placed over the original WPA sign that should have been obscured had it not been for one side of the APNU tag that was improperly tacked on, causing it to hang so that no one misses the letters WPA ‒ very crafty indeed. But the questions from the inquisitive Black boy and Indian girl to learn about the past is not funny. These are simple questions deserving forthright answers, the-plain truth, while a tense and frightened-looking Corbin and Granger peer from inside their headquarters with bated breath for Roopnaraine’s response.
The question from the Black boy: “Uncle Rupert my parents tell me that how Burnham shoot at people and arrest them for protesting, is true?”
Question from the Indian girl: “My parents never tell me that, so it is not true, right uncle Rupert?” Take note, see how clever Harris presents this; it is the Black boy making the accusation and the Indian girl defending ‒ Oh oh! smart eh!
Of cardinal interest and the only thing that really matters in this entire scene is the answer from Uncle Rupert. This cartoon has got to be among the many Harris classics.