[237120, A2] Wk 4: Task 4C – Visual Analysis of Selected Images Blog Task
The production of the visual text entitled “In the Rubber Coils” by Linley Sambourne provides great insight into its purpose. It was made in 1906, first published in an English political review magazine named Punch Magazine. The artist was British – as was the investigation which revealed the atrocities against the Congolese people in the Casement Report of 1904. As is frequently the case with politically motivated production, the views represented therein make a statement about the position of the people. The image may have been produced by the artist in order to align himself, the magazine, and the British people in shared condemnation of the abuse of colonised peoples. The genre of the image is one of satire, which uses the media of humour and caricature to make social and political commentary. This allows the makers to clearly express their views through the product, while leaving elements open to interpretation by the audience.
The image depicts a Congolese man in the foreground, dressed in a reed skirt outdoors near a large body of water. He wears an expression of abject fear, struggling to hold back a snake which has coiled itself around him. The snake is textured similarly to the markings of rubber tubing, and in the place of a snake’s head has King Leopold of Belgium’s head wearing a crown staring at the Congolese man. In the middle ground, we see a Congolese woman with a child in her arms running away from the scene, afraid. It would have been a mass produced print in the magazine, one of many similar satirical images of contemporary news. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the Congolese man in the foreground, who is placed in the exact centre of the image to make him the focal point. The components of the man and the snake is one of struggle, and of clear fear of the snake. As a political satire cartoon, we see that it draws from its genre in the caricature of King Leopold’s head placed on the snake, as well as the highly dramatic nature of the work and expressive poses. The Congolese man represents the Congolese people being exploited for labour. The depiction of the snake has manifold interpretations. It foremost represents King Leopold’s grip on the Congo from which its people cannot escape. The snake appearing like rubber tubing is reference to the Congo being utilised by King Leopold as a mass factory for rubber due to his dealings with Dunlop, with all revenue going to King Leopold’s personal bank account. The snake could also be interpreted as representing the institution of colonisation as a whole being oppressive, strangling the development of the African people. Thus, we see the representation of the man versus the snake symbolising the disempowerment of the Congolese people. However, the representation is heavily biased against King Leopold, which limits the perspectives one can gain from the image.
The intended audience for the image would have been the ‘civilised’ peoples of Europe, particularly of Britain – considering where the publication may have been distributed. It would have been displayed and circulated by the medium of Punch magazine: However, its value as a historical document has meant that the image is frequently utilised in historic texts for study as well as historical archives. Thus, its contemporary audience would probably be students of history. The audience at the time of publication would have been shocked by the imagery, as the atrocities committed during the time of colonisation were not common knowledge among European civilians. A modern audience is desensitised to violent imagery; coupled with foreknowledge of the horrors of colonisation, the modern audience would view the image as iconic more than horrifying.
- Rose, Gillian. “Visual Methodologies: A Review.” Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to researching with Visual Materials. 3rd. London: SAGE, 2012. 346-347. Print.
- Sambourne, Linley. In the Rubber Coils. Punch Magazine Cartoons, London. Web. <http://www.punchcartoons.com/More-Categories-history-&-politics-personalities/c200_32_107/p379/In-The-Rubber-Coils/product_info.html>.