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(photo credit: michel kichka)
Twenty-six editorial cartoonists from more than a dozen countries, including Singapore, Kenya, and Japan as well as the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, will convene in Miskenot Sha'ananim in Jerusalem next week for one of the first-ever conferences on political cartooning.
"This will be a rare opportunity for Jerusalem and Israel, for the cartoonists themselves, and for the public that will come to hear them," promises Michel Kichka, Artistic Director of the conference.
Syndicated political cartoonist Patrick Oliphant from the United States, considered by most to be the premier cartoonist in the world today, is among the many recognizable names who will be attending the conference. Kichka promises that Oliphant, who is also an accomplished artist and sculptor, will not merely present a lecture or deliver a speech -- he will draw his words for the audience.
Kichka notes that almost all of the cartoonists that he invited accepted willingly. He also invited cartoonists from Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, but they politely declined.
Undaunted, he believes that the conference will be important for Israel.
"Just like we see other countries through the headlines, the editorial cartoonists see Jerusalem and Israel through the headlines, too. But at the conference they will have the opportunity to see Jerusalem in all its complexity and all its beauty as part of a small, intimate group.
"They will hear things they don't usually hear and see things they don't usually see. They will have the opportunity, for example, to meet Shay Charka, a talented artist and cartoonists who works in Makor Rishon and is religious, and to listen to his dilemmas and ideas."
Since cartoonists express themselves through their drawings, these professionals may know and respect each other's work, but they rarely have the opportunity to meet together.
"A cartoonist's job is to protest, to query, to challenge, to ridicule, to tell the naked truth -- but he does this through his drawings. It will be a challenge for us to express ourselves in words," Kichka says.
He hopes that Jerusalemites will come to the lectures, which are open to the public.
"We Israelis, who are so often offended by what the world writes about us and how the cartoonists represent us, will have the opportunity to hear what they really think and how they really feel.
"Political cartoons are biting," he acknowledges, "that's their role. But people must realize, it's not the cartoon that's offensive -- it's the reality that it represents. A good cartoon isn't biting for its own sake -- it is making a statement. So if a good cartoon is appalling, then it's appalling because the reality is appalling."
As artistic director, Kichka reveals, he "had the privilege of inviting the participants according the the criteria that I set up." The panel of participants includes cartoonists who, in Kichka's opinion, are influential in their own countries yet maintain an international perspective. They are artists as well as political commentators.
"I might not necessarily agree with their point of view," he says, "but everyone who is invited has a point of view, and has a conscience. A political cartoonist is biting, but he or she must also be a person who cares about injustice, however he or she defines it."
All of the participants have been invited to talk about their world views and about the role of political cartooning in their countries.
"It will be fascinating," Kichka promises. "Most of us know little about life in Africa, for example, or Japan.
"And it will be very important, for example, to hear Anne Telnaes from the Washington Post, whose work is characterized by her fine, elegant lines and her really sharp commentary. She is one of the few women political cartoonists, and she will talk about the encroachment of church into state in the United States.
"And we in Israel too often think that it is only a problem for us," Kichka adds ironically.
A good cartoon, he says, hits you immediately. It makes its message clear in the first second. "But then, it leads you to think more, to reconsider your own opinions. And hopefully, it touches your emotions, and makes you feel something very powerful."
The Jerusalem Cartoon Conference will take place at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Mishkenot Sha'aninim from November 6 - 8.
For information and tickets: 629-2212, firstname.lastname@example.org