As a child Gianluca Costantini often drew images to detach himself from reality and create his own world. Without know it at the time, the famed Italian cartoonist and illustrator set himself off on a journey to bring global injustices to the fore, no matter the country, language, or struggle.
“My personal target is to denounce human-rights violations, and also to expose those people who wield power and take [sic] decisions,” says Costantini, whose work has been displayed in museums and art centers from Paris to Buenos Aires.
Yet it is outside the walls of these conventional forums where the artist-turned activist has found the most recognition. More than 41,500 followers await his creations each day on Twitter.
“We don’t have to misunderstand political cartoons or confuse them with satire. Web satire does not interest me at all. Now it seems that you cannot exact political cartoons from the web and social networks.”
Strokes of Reality
Born in Ravenna in 1971, once home to Roman Empire navy ports and the cradle of Italy’s Byzantium in the Adriatic Coast, Costantini classifies his early discovery of Italian art as an “inevitable occupation of the soul.”
“I was really affected by growing up in Italy, because art surrounds you and is the expression of the environment, architecture, [and] painting. Art is invasive in every situation.”
Such an invasion led a 17-year-old Costantini to seek training in classical art studies and mosaics at the Ravenna State Institute of Mosaic Art (Istituto Statale d’Arte per il Mosaico di Ravenna) and the Ravenna Academy of Fine Arts (Accademia di Belle Arti di Ravenna).
“Drawing became my life,” Costantini explains.
Influenced by the likes of Serbian cartoonist Aleksandar Zograf, Spanish comic-strip writer Felipe Hernández Cava, and Chinese activist Ai Weiwei, Costantini has focused his attention on various protest groups, such as the Occupy movements in Istanbul, Hong Kong, and Cairo.
He points to his work on land grabbing in Tanzania, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Charlie Hebdo shooting among his proudest accomplishments.
“I select the regions by chance and intuition. I am simply attracted to things I don’t know. By drawing them, I enter into the story, and so I can feel if I need to go on drawing or if I need to stop.”
Utilizing art to express what spoken words fail to convey, Costantini’s technique varies according to the story’s narrative and sense of urgency.
Most of the drawings published on Twitter take an average of 20 minutes to finish. The cartoonist keeps his use of editing software to a minimum, using Adobe Photoshop only for coloring.
“I do not need an atmosphere [to draw]. I can do what I do everywhere. The only indispensable things would be a table, paper, pencils, dark ink, [and] a computer or a smartphone,” the cartoonist explains.
To reach a balance between crude strokes of reality and appealing aesthetics, the cartoonist draws inspiration from Ernest Friedrich’s book War against War (1924), which captures the grotesque and devastating effects of the Great War on human life.
“It was one of the first moments that I saw that my drawing could transform into an instrument that denounced events, but at the same time, I could do something aesthetically pleasing.”
“We Will Not Be Silent”
For Costantini, covering the Americas has not been easy. Although his drawings of the hemisphere date back to the 2004 US war in Iraq, as well as the war in Afghanistan, the region is not typically discussed in Italy.
One of the greatest challenges he has faced, aside from the geographic distance, has been understanding the actors and issues in the region, such as the 2013 Confederations Cup protests in Brazil, and the 2014 disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students in Mexico.
“I fell into these topics again with the death of [Mexican photojournalist] Rubén Espinosa. Some people started to write me, ‘You have told his story. Why don’t you tell the story of this person?’ Every story is linked to one another.”
In order to challenge political apathy in the Americas, Costantini encourages people to seek information. Citizens should care about these issues, he explains, because “those trying to say the truth get killed.”
“My wife told me I was qualunquista (politically apathetic) at dinner one time. I was touched, but at the same time I discovered it was true, so much that the first book that collected all my drawings was titled Diario di un qualunquista (Diary of a Qualunquist).
“If I could share a message, it would be one by [Hans and] Sophie Scholl, part of the anti-Nazi student group White Rose,” he says. “We will not be silent.”
EspañolNarco-trafficking has become a key issue in this year's presidential race in Argentina, and the top three candidates — Sergio Massa, Mauricio Macri, and Daniel Scioli — all agree on one thing: an increased role for state security forces to fight the war on drugs. Various experts and intellectuals, however, say the current discourse is riddled with "assumptions, intuition, and improvisation" and are calling for the candidates to have a "serious debate" on drug policy. Over 100 scholars have signed and released a document posted on the website The Drug Issue in Argentina, in which they warn that the country's current policy on drugs will worsen the problem over time. "We are solely motivated by the conviction that it's time to seriously address the issue. Denial or misrepresentation only encourages those who have a biased agenda based on fear, ignorance, and pomposity, intent on establishing a warfare approach that would give the armed forces a leading role, running afoul of the law," the press release published on September 16 states. The document claims that many of the social ills associated with drug trafficking, including extreme violence, corruption, and the undermining of state institutions, are the result of a "failed, repressive" policy. The authors suggest that militarizing the fight against drugs will only lead to abuses and increased homicides rates, as seen in Mexico over the last decade. In 2006, then Mexican President Felipe Calderón launched a federal offensive against drug trafficking. Six years later, the death toll stood at 60,000 people, and another 26,000 missing. "Countries in the region that have called upon the military to face the problem show a dubious record in controlling the supply of drugs," the authors affirm. What it has proved is that the strategy "invariably leads to a rise in levels of corruption, violence, and disrespect for human rights." Argentina's Drug Czars In the lead up to the October 25 presidential election, opposition candidate Sergio Massa has led the charge in demanding tougher anti-drug policies. Massa is a progressive Peronist, like President Cristina Kirchner, but parted ways with the administration in 2009. His proposals include laws authorizing the military to shoot down planes that transport drugs, occupy poor neighborhoods, and use the army to target cartels. During a visit to an impoverished Buenos Aires suburb, he called drug trafficking a "national security risk," and envisioned a comprehensive security program to tackle the issue with the police and the army. He promised to recover the territory "currently held by drug traffickers." [adrotate group="8"] Mauricio Macri, the leading opposition candidate for the Let's Change coalition, has also placed illegal drug trafficking at the center of his platform. During a campaign event earlier this month, Macri said that if elected, defeating narco-trafficking would be one of his three major challenges. "It's putting our culture, our families at risk. It is also corrupting our institutions, buying politicians, judges, police officers, and officials, and it must be stopped," he said. "We will be the first government to address this issue directly and battle it from the first day." His drug-policy advisor, Eugenio Burzaco, is the coauthor of the book Narco Power, which makes the argument that a "comprehensive re-engineering" of national security is necessary. Macri, like Massa, favors shooting down planes suspected of carrying illegal drugs. As for Daniel Scioli, the ruling-coalition candidate and governor of the Buenos Aires province since 2007, he wants to create a local police force to target the retail drug trade. He has also promised to triple, over a four-year period, the number of officers enlisted in the national police and the navy patrol, as well as to form a militarized urban squad. Last year, Scioli suggested the government should reassess the role of the army regarding drug trade, "because it's evidently a homeland security problem." Current Argentinean law prohibits the armed forces from addressing common crimes, except when "the president deems that the interior security system is not enough." Furthermore, all three major candidates agree on the need for the creation of a new federal agency to investigate drug crimes. Alarmed Population Macri and Massa also say that Argentina has gone from being a country where illegal drugs are merely trafficked through, to one that both produces and consumes them. However, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Argentina is still not recognized as a producer country. "[B]razil (particularly since 2010) and Argentina are the cocaine transit countries most frequently mentioned in major individual drug seizures," the 2015 World Drug Report states. Even though Argentina's weather is not ideal for coca leaf crops, and no coca plantations have ever been registered, the northern provinces' proximity to Bolivia — one of the world's largest cocaine producers — and Paraguay — South America's main exporter of marijuana — have turned them into a fertile field for drug-trafficking activities. Meanwhile, public awareness over drug use and illegal trafficking in the country is on the rise. The Catholic University of Argentina reports that between 2010 and 2014, public awareness of drug sales in Argentinean neighborhoods increased by 50 percent. Further, a study by the Argentinean Business University shows that eight out of 10 Argentineans believe drug trafficking and drug abuse are a "serious problem" in the country. Of those surveyed, half recommend "harsher laws" to tackle the problem.