Comic relief

Jerusalem, a city where everything is political, makes perfect subject for exhibit of caricatures.

comic exhibit 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
comic exhibit 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The highly charged atmosphere of Jerusalem with all its struggles and confrontations makes the city a "paradise for caricatures," at least according to Eran Litvin, the curator of an upcoming exhibition on the subject at the Tower of David Museum. Jerusalem in Caricatures opens on July 2 and will display the work of some of the best caricaturists in Israel, all with one thing in common - the Holy City as their muse. What exactly is a caricature? Litvin explains that the term is derived from the Italian word caricare, meaning "to load." It refers to a drawing of a person or a situation that exaggerates certain details or characteristics in such a way as to charge the drawing with additional nuances with the intention of arousing criticism and sometimes causing amusement. In partnership with the Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon, the exhibition will present central events, important figures, sporting events and everyday life in Jerusalem, using the works of 60 caricaturists, such as Michel Kichka, Shmulik Katz, Zev Englermeir, Yirmi Pinkus and Amos Biderman. The Tower of David Museum exhibition will attempt to present the many faces and circumstances of Jerusalem with all its problems, complexity and charm. "Jerusalem is a crowded piece of God's earth, bursting with old struggles and contemporary confrontations, saturated with religious and ideological meaning, laden with cultural and political importance. Different and often conflicting dreams and desires coexist uneasily in this one arena," says Litvin. He sees Jerusalem as the perfect inspiration for a caricaturist, "The art of caricature - which is essentially critical visual text - cannot fail to bear fruit in such a highly charged environment." Jerusalem is a city that calls for special attention to highlight its complexity and respond to the tensions that exist at every level, he says. "This makes it a paradise for caricaturists." In such an atmosphere, the caricature has the advantage of contemplating with a smile the serious issues Jerusalem imposes on its residents and visitors, he says. "There is no limit to the creative thinking and criticism that can be brought to bear on the historical and contemporary events that the city has known." In a city like Jerusalem, divided along religious and political lines, offense is easily taken. Litvin understands this. "In the powder keg called Jerusalem, a caricature can be more volatile than usual," he contends. The museum has taken care to present the divisions without upsetting residents. Shosh Yaniv, director of the Tower of David Museum, says that although the politics of Jerusalem will not be the central focus of the caricatures on display, it will be addressed. "It's Jerusalem; nothing is not political in Jerusalem. You say 'Good morning' and it's political," she quips. "The area in which we wanted to make sure we didn't offend anyone is that of religion. We are very sensitive to this issue," she stresses. Litvin points out that the museum did not shy away from showing the often high levels of discord among Jerusalemites. "A lot of the caricatures are intense and explore serious topics from different standpoints." How did Litvin reconcile presenting the differences in Jerusalem without insulting residents? "It was hard to do," he admits. "We wanted to tell stories, so we had to explore the differences. Some caricatures were really funny, but we couldn't use them because they would have offended people," he explains. In addition to presenting these divisions, the exhibit will also display the issues that foster a sense of unity. "Topical issues and old community concerns both find expression in this exhibition," says Litvin. Visitors to the exhibition will be treated to a vast array of caricatures dating from the 1960s until today. Renee Sivan, curator of the Tower of David Museum, explains the set-up and highlights of the new exhibition. "We are including many historical caricatures in the exhibition. There will be caricatures of Teddy Kollek - the King of the City - and many others." Sivan says that although politics is an aspect of the display, most of the caricatures deal with social issues. The caricatures are taken mostly from newspapers over the years, but there are also pieces that were done specifically for the exhibition. Along with the caricatures, some newspaper headlines are displayed as well. "We took some headlines from the daily press so that people can understand the context of the pictures," explains Sivan. "The caricaturist is trying to convey a message that occurs in a precise time." In addition to the photos and headlines, visitors can also enjoy the musings of renowned Israeli author, playwright and satirist Ephraim Sidon. Referring to Sidon as a kind of "caricature poet," Sivan says, "His writing is criticism with a smile included." The exhibition also features three films, each one showing a different artist and describing his creative process. "They serve as an introduction to themselves and their work," Sivan explains. The caricatures on display are not originals but copies taken from various archives. Sivan contends that there is no real difference between the originals and the copies of the photos. "They look almost original. And when you present an original, you need a lot of money for security and insurance." The idea for the exhibition came eight months ago when members of the museum staff visited the Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon. "We thought, we know a lot about Jerusalem and they know a lot about caricatures, let's do it together," says Yaniv. "We are dealing with Jerusalem, which is a very sensitive issue," she adds, "but we hope people will smile when they see the exhibition." Litvin has high hopes for the exhibition. "I want it to be an experience," he says. "Jerusalem is a unique place, not just from a historical perspective but also from a personal perspective. The place is very small, but everyone has dreams and everyone has a focus." The Tower of David Museum is open Sun. through Thur. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m; Fri. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sat. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission for adults is NIS 30; NIS 15 for children. A combination day/ night ticket costs NIS 65 for adults and NIS 55 for children.