11 Apr 2024

The Darker Side of Cute

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How can cuteness be used to sugar coat difficult messages?

In this episode we join another artist commissioned for the Somerset House exhibition CUTE, Brooklyn based Sean-Kierre Lyons, to explore how cute characters have been used to tackle sensitive ideas from the middle ages on.  In her practice, Sean-Kierre brings the grotesque and the cute together to approach challenging themes. Much of her work is inspired by cartoon animation, specifically its roots in racist caricature. For her Somerset House installation Sean-Kierre created a dragon-like gargoyle called Benevolence, one of nine protector gods she is developing, inspired by the 90s cartoon ‘Gargoyles.’

Here Sean-Kierre exposes the double edged sword of cute, looking at how cute characters have been used to mask malicious intent, as in the case of the animated characters used in war propaganda, as well as to deliver moral reminders, as far back as medieval masonry. She talks to animator of the Big Blue, Gyimah Gariba about how he uses cuteness to demonstrate the vulnerability of earth’s climate and art historian Dr Janetta Rebold Benton explains how gargoyles could be thought to be a form of cartoons of the middle ages.

Contains strong language from the start. 


Producer - Alannah Chance
Exec Producer - Eleanor Ritter-Scott
Series presenter - Laurent John

CUTE: An Exhibition Exploring the Irresistible Force of Cuteness in Contemporary Culture, at Somerset House, 25 Jan - 14 Apr 2024.
Principal Partner: Sanrio