The world is full of tricksters and their pranks, so it’s not surprising that we’d have a day dedicated to our favorite fools. The origin of April Fools Day is a mystery. One theory suggests that in the 1500s France changed its calendar so the New Year, which previously fell in the spring, would match the Roman’s new year in January.  Because the news of the calendar change did not reach people living in the rural areas of France, they still celebrated the New Year in the spring and were called, “April Fools.”

As children, we identified the silly character in our fairytales and stories
 adorned in eccentric attire and jingling bells. Although jesters date back to earlier civilizations, they are usually associated with medieval Europe. They had the most influence in Europe, in which their roles bordered between acting as entertainment and providing political advice to important figures and kings. Jesters were often called fools, clowns, or jokers, because they did ludicrous things. But this meant that they could speak the truth and get away with it.

Growing older, we find that the idea of the jester is still there, but it has taken on other shapes. The fool is a reoccurring character in literature and film, from Shakespearean works, like The Fool in
King Lear and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to humorist Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp and through physical comedy, Lucille Ball's trailblazing play as Lucy Ricardo. Actors like Amy Poehler and Aubrey Plaza draw from elements of the classic jester as they satirize social and political norms in stand-up and television.

Visual artists who create tongue-in-cheek art can also be considered more contemporary jesters. 
Jeff Koons is renowned for his stainless steel reproductions of commonplace objects, like balloon animals.  One of Marcel Duchamp ‘s most infamous pieces was a manufactured urinal entitled, “Fountain.”  He submitted it in an art show as a prank meant to taunt his avant-garde peers.  And then there’s Banksy, the England-based graffiti artist whose stenciled pictures chip away at political and social issues.  As iconic as he has become, Banksy prefers to keep his identity anonymous, and why shouldn’t he?  His satirical art illegally bombs walls, streets, and bridges in cities all over the world.  Best to keep that on the low.

In the collage above, the image to the top left is “Five Senses,” from
Francesco Clemente‘s India Collection. It’s of a person showing his or her tongue, which in turn is a figure wrapped in pink.  It’s awkward and sensual, and at the same time, plays with the senses at a materialistic level. But what is considered playful foolery in one country may have a much different cultural significance in another. In America, depending on the context, sticking out one’s tongue can mean many things: contempt, dislike, teasing, flirting, or being silly.  In Tibet, sticking out your tongue is a way of greeting someone.  In Rock and Roll, groups like The Rolling Stones and KISS stuck out their tongues in acts of open sexuality and social rebellion. Kali, the Hindu goddess associated with female empowerment, is most often depicted with her tongue sticking out in reference to the time Lord Shiva threw himself at her feet, as a plea to stop her from battle.

When society looks back on our era, and how we behaved and treated one another, will they think that these bizarre pieces and so called pranks, like the artwork of Jeff Koons or Banksy, are just zeitgests of our time?  This April Fools Day, whether you’re taking your tricks home or away, keep the fool’s history in mind. Maybe your ruses have long overlooked layers of undertone, forgotten meaning giving them implication beyond what we see today.
~Susan Brickell