Holon punch line

Celebrating 5th anniversary, The Israeli Cartoon Museum displays some of the best caricatures appearing in media during 2012.

Palestinian statehood cartoon (photo credit: John Kron)
Palestinian statehood cartoon
(photo credit: John Kron)
Comics and caricatures may have taken a while to find their way to widespread attention in this part of the world, but the art forms have really taken off here in recent years.
For a start, there’s the annual Animix International Animation Comics & Caricature Festival which has been running at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for a dozen years now, and attracts growing audiences. And next Wednesday will mark its fifth anniversary.
The museum has made it a habit of ending each year with an exhibition that reflects some of the artistic enterprise that was undertaken in the previous 12 months. The 2012 year-end show, Punch, 2012 Harvest, opened at the museum on December 6 and offers the public an across-the-board glimpse of some of the best caricatures that appeared in the print and digital media during the year. The show opener also included the presentation of the 2012 Golden Pencil award to hard-hitting 81-year-old Romanian-born political caricaturist Eder Adrian.
Punch, 2012 Harvest incorporates 200 caricatures divided into seven categories: social protest/economic crisis, religious and secular Israelis, Israel and the Arab world, revolutions and the global economy, the Iranian threat, refugees and the collapse of the media. The person responsible for curating the show is Dorit Maya Gur, who also serves as chairman of the Israeli Cartoonist Association (ICA).
Maya Gur says things are definitely looking up for her and her fellow professionals.
“I am starting my third year as head of the association,” she says. “We have got a good website going, in which each artist has a page for his or her works.”
She says she is also doing her level best to get the word out to the world that there are good things going on in the field here.
“We had a great exhibition in Madrid in the past year, and we really have something to offer. It was good to show people abroad what we can do.”
Caricaturists are always happy when there is plenty going on in the political sphere, as that gives them plenty of fuel to stoke their creative fires. According to Maya Gur, recent regional events have helped to enhance the discipline’s standing.
“With all the things that have been going in the Arab world, with all the revolutions, there is a sense of resurgence of the caricature,” she says, adding that caricatures can sometimes evoke dramatic, and even violent, responses.
“I am not talking about the cartoons in Denmark [the 2005 cartoons of the prophet Mohamed in Jyllands-Postens, which sparked off violent demonstrations]. There was a documentary by [Channel 10 Arab affairs reporter] Zvi Yehezkeli about Islam in Europe and he devoted one part to a French caricaturist who drew something which caused furor in the Arab world and the French newspaper was even shut down for a while.”
The publication in question is the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which ran caricatures that featured naked figures of Mohamed.
While not necessarily expressing her support for such brash, if not insensitive, forms of political statement, Maya Gur says that they serve to accentuate the power of the caricature to hit home.
“That kind of work is going to upset certain sectors of the population,” she says diplomatically, “but it raised the profile of the caricature, and revived interest in its role.”
There are examples of this from closer to home too.
“A while ago, [veteran Israeli caricaturist] Shlomo Cohen did something on the new Egyptian president, in which he showed a sphinx with a veil, and he got thousands of responses from people, via the web, from all over the world.”
The ICA head is an accomplished artist herself and, among other works, created the Felafelman comics character. She has also garnered some pretty heavyweight reactions to her work.
“I have done some stuff on some blogs, not even the leading blogs, and every time I put in some figure from Hamas or Hezbollah I get tons of really fierce reactions, with threats on my life and that sort of thing. In the last year or two, in particular, the relevance of caricatures has grown appreciably.”
As chairman of the national body of her fellow professionals, Maya Gur is not only in an ideal position to pass judgment on the genre’s current state of health here, but also to express an authoritative opinion on whether one can talk about a definitively Israeli style of caricature art.
“I don’t know if there is a particular Israeli line format,” she notes. “The pioneers of the discipline – people like [German- born] Friedel [Stern] and [Hungaryborn] Ze’ev [Yaakov Farkash] and [Hungarian- born] Srulik creator Dosh [Karial Gardosh] – most came from Hungary, and were Holocaust survivors, and they had their own line, but it was a European style.
Today, the younger generation is influenced by all sorts of styles – American, European and Japanese. I don’t think there is a clear Israeli style of line yet.”
Maya Gur says that the Israeliness of our caricatures is more a matter of thematic approach.
“It is the subject matter which pertains specifically to topics from here. Our caricatures feed off our current affairs which, of course, are very dynamic, so there is no shortage of raw material for us to work on.
"Here, we have been creating caricatures for around 50 years, which is nothing compared to, say France and Belgium, where they have been making them for hundreds of years.”
But we seem to be making progress, both in terms of the artists’ offerings, and with regard to the way the public at large reacts to them.
“A few years back, Ze’ev Engelmaier drew a cartoon with a suicide bomber who goes to heaven only to be told that they have run out of virgins,” says Maya Gur. “There were thousands of responses to that. But, I think Israelis have become less conservative, even though all us cartoonists get loads of talkback responses to our work, which is great. And you know there is no censorship on caricatures. That gives us free rein, which is the way it should be.”
We can expect more where all that came from 2013.
For more information about the Punch, 2012 Harvest exhibition: (03) 652-1849 and www.cartoon.org.il