Cartoonist KAL Uses Duke Residency To Carve Out Space In Election History

This story was written by Andrew Hibbard, The Duke Chronicle
Cartoons are funny. Sculptures are permanent.

Economist cartoonist Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher began a week-long residency at the Sanford Institute of Public Policy Monday, during which he will complete a sculpture commemorating the 2008 presidential campaign.

Commissioned with a grant from the provost's Council for the Arts, the sculpture is entitled "Race 2008," a pun connoting both the election season and President-elect Barack Obama's background. The sculpture depicts Obama breaking through a wall and running toward the future, most of his body over the edge of the sculpture's base.

"I wanted to create a character that had energy," Kallaugher said. "I wanted a character of Obama that was dashing forward. I also wanted to have him hurling himself off the plinth in order to give it a sense of tension that is something you can only do with sculpture."

The sculpture follows in the footsteps of some of Kallaugher's more noteworthy cartoons. He said that after each presidential election-this is the seventh he has drawn for-he always draws a cartoon that encapsulates the election. For the 2008 campaign, he wanted to do this in sculpture.

"I set out to make something that would last the test of time," Kallaugher said. "That's the one thing about sculpture, they tend to be things that are permanent. They distill down to the simplest element the key components of what you're trying to say. That's why we don't have John McCain [in the sculpture], because I think he will be forgotten."

The idea for Kallaugher to come to the University was hatched in spring. He visited Duke last April to perform with Chicago-based improv troupe Second City, and a career retrospective is on display in Rubenstein Hall now. Karen Kemp, director of communications at Sanford, said Kallaugher's current visit is part of Duke University's mission to further include arts into academic life.

"There are a lot of different ways to learn about things, and the arts are one way," Kemp said. "We thought it was a valuable way to enrich our conversation about the election."

But Kallaugher's connection to Duke goes back to his undergraduate days at Harvard University, where he became friends with Associate Professor Frederick Mayer, director of graduate studies in public policy studies. Mayer said Kallaugher, who also works in 3D animation, has an artistic talent that is rare among cartoonists.

"The artistic element he brings to [cartooning] is really refined," Mayer said. "He brings to his satire and his art an artistic sophistication and a depth of knowledge. There's a lot of funny cartoonists out there who might not be as deep."

When Kallaugher completes the sculpture Friday, he will take it with him, but Duke will keep a cast of it, and will possibly display it at Sanford or at an upcoming exhibit on satire at the Nasher Museum of Art.

Mightier than the Sword: The Satirical Pen of KAL, is on display in Rubenstein Hall through Friday, Nov. 14.
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