An alternative, highly provocative view of the Holocaust

Brushing aside claims that his posters advertising fictitious Holocaust films are insensitive, Ido Suliman says he hopes they will encourage people to learn more about the Shoah.

Ido Suliman 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ido Suliman 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ido Suliman knows he’s walking on thin ice but declares that he has been consummately sensitive in his alternative portrayal of the Holocaust in his exhibition entitled “Cracking in Berlin.” The name gives you an immediate sense of Suliman’s darkly comedic mindset and what he sought to express and evoke in the show.
The exhibition, which opened at the Artists House last month and runs until August 18, comprises a collection of posters, created by Suliman, that advertise fictitious films. For the project, the 30-year-old artist fed off a variety of cinematic and artistic sources, including film noir and sensationalist works, with a generous helping of fetishism thrown in. The posters are patently designed to challenge, not to mention shock, and/or raise a smile – sardonic or otherwise.
“I definitely want to prompt issues and to get people to talk about the Holocaust, even if they are not necessarily happy with what they see here,” Suliman declares. “In the Sixties and Seventies there was a film style called ‘exploitation movies,’ which split into genres and subgenres, including one in which American soldiers took revenge on the Nazis. I wanted to portray that idea from here, even though no movies like that were made in Israel. The Americans and Italians made movies like that, so why shouldn’t we? After all, we suffered from the Nazis more than anyone. We have all these solemn ceremonies on Holocaust Day. I wanted to mark the Holocaust in a different way.”
For Suliman, the latter is a salient point, with some personal ethnic-divide history also driving his desire to cast an alternative light on the Holocaust. “As kids, we were always forced to attend Holocaust Day ceremonies, with politicians and other VIPs making solemn speeches and people singing songs – very specific songs – and we had to wear white shirts,” Suliman recalls. “That didn’t mean much to me. I didn’t want to be told how to commemorate this terrible event.”
Ethnicity also came into the mix. “I come from a Sephardi family and, as a kid, I was often told by other kids that it wasn’t my Holocaust.”
So not only was Suliman told how to mark Holocaust Day, but his peers were also intent on making him feel guilty for even participating in the proceedings.
Suliman is now grown up and can express himself how he pleases, even when addressing such a sensitive issue as the Holocaust. He says the ultimate catalyst for “Cracking in Berlin” took place last year. “I was at some friends’ house on Holocaust Day, and a girl my own age asked me why I showed any interest in the event. She said that I came from the Sephardi community and that I couldn’t possibly have any idea of what she had experienced – and we’re talking about a third-generation Israeli here! I thought that was ridiculous. I had to prove to them that I was worthy of mourning the victims of the Holocaust?”
The artist says he has noted a developing trend in other commemorative endeavors as well. “For some reason, it has become ‘cool’ to be a friend of a casualty of a war or of some other military incident. I want to find my own way to mark these tragic events. I don’t want to be told how to do that or that I shouldn’t do it at all.”
Hence “Cracking in Berlin,” which Suliman hopes will in some small way help to counteract political and social dictates about how to mourn the death of six million Jews appropriately.
“Political leaders and the establishment always try to form a consensus in order to manipulate the public. Maybe a little exhibition at the Artists House can offer something else. I have no other way of expressing how I feel about such terrible acts of evil – to offer a little bit of humor and little bit of something shocking, and something dark and black. Hopefully, that will get people talking about the whole issue.”
There is another side to the Holocaust that Suliman hopes will surface as a result of his portrayal of events. “There are always these heroic stories of the Sabra, with his powerful appearance and the great acts of bravery he performed to help bring the State of Israel into being. And then there are the Holocaust victims who were ‘like lambs being led to slaughter.’ That is also a political fallacy. It is just so easy to create and stick to stereotypes. It makes life so much more comfortable and manageable, even if it does not exactly portray the realities of life.”
Naturally, Suliman did his utmost to steer clear of any image or name that could be tied in with the real McCoy. One poster, for example, purports to advertise a wham-bang action movie that glories under the name of Muataz. It’s the sort of title that – intentionally – almost sounds familiar. “I played around with something that sounds sort of Arabic but not quite,” Suliman explains. The artist’s own name also appears among the cast of “actors.”
The process of creating the posters involved doing some definitively unpalatable groundwork. “I watched all sorts of disgusting movies before I started to work,” says Suliman, “like Nazi exploitation films that were totally revolting. I had to know where to draw the line, not to overdo it.”
SULIMAN SAYS he was extremely wary of drifting into the realm of bad taste, recounting that he ran the material by friends and relatives of all ages before showing the works to the public. Did he think he had, at times, run too close to the wire?
“Out of all the posters that people might have found off-putting, the only one anyone objected to was this one,” he says, pointing to one entitled Adolf Brown Shower, which depicts a Hitler-like figure with his outstretched hand – sieg heil style – wedged into a muscular woman’s posterior, with the inevitable ensuing scatological effect.
“They weren’t bothered by things with unrefined sexual connotations or a poster with a baby held upside down from a swastika [called Merciless Monsters] or parts of concentration camps; it was this one that they found revolting. That’s a bit strange,” he says.
The response from members of the public – people who have been to the see the exhibition and others who have only read coverage of it in Ma’ariv – has been mixed. Not surprisingly, the exhibition has elicited some strong reactions. One person made a point of Suliman’s eastern roots and said that as Suliman supposedly has no direct link with the Holocaust, he allowed himself the liberty of introducing humor to a very painful area of Jewish life. Another explained the artist’s unsuitable take on the Holocaust due to his being a “Jewish Arab,” while a third noted: “You’ve grabbed a headline, and they’ve written about you and the garbage you produce and call it ‘art.’”
There were also some positive reactions, including from celebrated writer, director and playwright Yehoshua Sobol, who said that all Jews are connected to the Holocaust directly or indirectly. “Each of us chooses the most appropriate way to express his pain, and I believe that Ido, as a Sephardi Jew, focused on the pain of rape and the trampling of human dignity that took place during the Holocaust.” Others labeled Suliman’s critics as bleeding hearts who are more concerned about political correctness than trying to understand Suliman’s artistic intent.
For his part, Suliman expressed his regret that some people have criticized the exhibition without taking the trouble to go see it for themselves, adding that, “The nature of the remarks reflects what I marked out and the greatest fear – that of baseless hatred of someone you do not know personally, the immediate hatred and the assumption that the artist is an Arab because of his surname.”
He said that some of the visitors thought he had gone too far with the posters, while others – especially youth – wanted to learn more about the Holocaust and the horrific events that took place during World War II.
At the end of the day, Suliman hopes his exhibition will give the whole Holocaust issue a bit of an airing – for himself, too. “My father came from Egypt, and he remembered seeing German warplanes flying over his house. But as he wasn’t Ashkenazi, he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. The Holocaust is something we can – and must – all relate to. It doesn’t belong exclusively to anyone.”
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