Political cartoonists have had a lot of work on their hands ever since Donald Trump won the election in 2016. His presidency threw the news cycle, and American politics in general, into a frenzy. Edel Rodriguez, a New York-based painter and illustrator, is one of the most prolific among them. In recent years, he has produced biting cartoons against the Trump administration on an almost daily basis, posting many of them on his Instagram and Twitter pages.
Rodriguez’s work has been featured on the covers and pages of leading publications like the New Yorker, Time Magazine, New York Times, Der Spiegel, and others. He has also illustrated nine children’s books and created film posters for PBS, among many other projects. His work has been displayed in a number of exhibitions and is included in the collections of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, and the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut.
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Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1971, Rodriguez came to the US as a refugee at the age of eight. His work carries the sensibilities of an immigrant, with cogent responses to the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies. In one of his illustrations, the current president is seen directing his golf stick at an immigrant child coiled in front of him. A cover Rodriguez created for the German magazine Der Spiegel, made shortly after the white nationalist march in Charlottesville in 2017, shows the president wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. Rodriguez has also produced agile responses to the events of 2020, from Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic to his efforts to disrupt and discredit mail-in voting, among other missteps and calamities.
As Americans vote in record numbers, we caught Rodriguez for a conversation on his work and the uncertain times we live through.
Hyperallergic: You produce new work almost every day. Have you always been so prolific, or is it an outcome of the Trump era?
Edel Rodriguez: I’ve always been drawing and painting, but lately I’ve been focusing more on US politics because it feels more urgent to deal with these topics. Political cartoons are actually a small part of my artistic practice, but they’ve been getting the most attention because the public is really concerned about these issues.
H: How does your background as a Cuban immigrant to the US inform your work and views?
ER: Being an immigrant informs my views deeply. I think the US should be a country that welcomes immigrants and refugees the way it has for hundreds of years. That’s not what’s happening now. I was welcomed into this country as a refugee from a communist dictatorship. Trump’s Muslim Ban was one of the things that set me off to speak out about political issues.
H: The common perception in American politics is that Cuban-Americans lean towards the Republican party. What’s your opinion on that?
ER: Trump’s propaganda has been enticing to Cuban-Americans. When you tell Cuban immigrants that you’re going to destroy totalitarianism in Cuba, as Trump did, of course they’re going to support you. But has Trump done anything to end communism in Cuba? The answer is no.
H: Are you anxious about the results of this election?
ER: I’m anxious; I think everybody is. There are a lot of causes for anxiety. This election will define this country to the rest of the world. If we elect Trump, we will be seen as a country that reelected a fascist.
I’m also tired. I want to get back to not having to think about politics every day. We spent the last four years riding a fast car with a drunk driver. I want to get off the ride and relax.
H: Your work is unabashedly critical of Trump and his administration. Do you consider your political cartoons to be a form of activism?
ER: I’m a concerned citizen who thinks that artists should have the freedom to express their opinions. I know that there are people who look at my work in places like Iran, Turkey, China, and Cuba who don’t have that freedom. With all the insanity that is happening, it’s important to me to show that the United States is a country where people can still speak their minds openly.