Zionist Art Gets a New Platform

June 4, 2013 11:49 am 0 comments

Neta Dror, pictured, a Jerusalem-based photographer and advisor for the Arthur Szyk Prize of Disruptive Thought and Zionist Art project, says the prize is not an attempt at hasbara (public diplomacy) for Israel, a charge she is sure will be made by Israeli art critics. Photo: Menahem Kahana.

JNS.org – Joshua Stulman grew up reading a little known comic book series about the adventures of Jewish super hero “Shaloman,” created by Al Wiesner. Shaloman takes on bigotry and Holocaust denial, uncovers terrorist plots to destroy Israel, and even rescues an Israeli and an Arab child, helping them to overcome their differences.

Now, at 30, the New York City-based Stulman has created his own comic book featuring Jewish superhero “Magen: The Shield of Israel.” In the first 25-page issue, the ripped and smiling Magen, wearing a blue and white body suit, joins forces with a heroic captured female IDF soldier to escape a terror cell operating an arms smuggling factory in a maze of underground tunnels.

Stulman submitted his comic book for the Arthur Szyk Prize of Disruptive Thought and Zionist Art, sponsored by Artists 4 Israel and the Jewish National Initiative (JNI), along with more than 100 artists who submitted a piece of work, from music to paintings to dance to film, in hopes of winning the $1,000 prize.

A five-member jury of Israeli and American writers, public relations specialists and arts experts, including Elianna Bar-El, editor of Time Out Israel, will select the winning piece—which “challenges the static conception of Zionism with ideas that extend beyond the work of art itself”—in June.

Organizers say the mainstream slant on art related to Israel, even in Israel, tends to be negative and anti-Zionist, and the prize is meant to create a platform for those pro-Israel artists who want to express a more nuanced, intimate relationship with the country.

Craig Dershowitz, executive director of the New York-based Zionist organization Artists 4 Israel, says political art “is a difficult topic to cover, and it’s always so much easier to make negative political art.”

Joshua Stulman, pictured, submitted his comic book for the Arthur Szyk Prize of Disruptive Thought and Zionist Art, sponsored by Artists 4 Israel and the Jewish National Initiative (JNI), along with more than 100 artists who submitted a piece of work, from music to paintings to dance to film, in hopes of winning the $1,000 prize. Stulman's superhero Magen, meaning “shield” in Hebrew, is inspired by superheroes like Captain America, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Photo: Courtesy Joshua Stulman.

Artists and filmmakers critical of Israel, in fact, have become accustomed to receiving international accolades. At this year’s Academy Awards, two films accused of anti-Israel bias by many pro-Israel viewers, “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers,” were nominated for Best Documentary. On May 25, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad won the “Jury Prize” in the “A Certain Regard” category at the Cannes Film Festival for his film, “Omar,” a Palestinian love story that presents Israeli security forces negatively, as they brutally torture the protagonist.

In the world of fine art, Dror Feiler, a composer and musician born in Israel, and his Swedish wife, artist Gunilla Sköld-Feiler, received attention for their 2004 controversial installation, “Snow White and The Madness of Truth.” The piece featured a bathtub of water colored red, upon which floated a small white boat named “Snow White” carrying a portrait of Hanadi Jaradat, a Palestinian suicide bomber. The artists said they wanted to call attention “to how weak people left alone can be capable of horrible things.”

But Daniel Fink, co-director of JNI, a Zionist organization, says the Arthur Szyk Prize is “not about countering arguments.”

“It’s about affirmation, and affirmation in the community as well,” he says. “Hopefully this will turn into other types of prizes.”

The winner’s work will be displayed in a gallery or shown in a performance space in Tel Aviv, depending on the medium, in an event that includes the broader Israeli artistic community.

Neta Dror, a Jerusalem-based photographer and advisor on the project, says the prize is not an attempt at hasbara (public diplomacy) for Israel, a charge she is sure will be made by Israeli art critics.

“It’s not about being an award for being a pro-Israel Zionist,” Dror, 27, says. “It’s not the point. It’s more about saying don’t be afraid. We know that people will completely ignore you in the normal art world if you say these things, but we’re going to give you a stage to say these things.”

The contest is about creating honest artwork, which has become difficult for Jewish artists around the world, Dror says, explaining that she has heard from Jewish artists in France and elsewhere that they don’t like to reveal they are Jewish or say what they feel about Israel for fear of harming their careers.

Dror graduated in 2001 from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. Some Bezalel teachers, Israeli curators and artists she has encountered push an “unspoken” anti-Israel agenda, she says, which made her avoid mixing art with politics.

“I knew that I can’t be extremely political in my work in Israel because I’m not going to do what’s expected of me which was to be anti-Israel,” she says. “It was my reaction to what was going on in Israel. I kind of ran away from my world.”

Dror hopes the new prize will help make the art world more open to critical discussion about Israel.

“You have to allow freedom,” she says. “What this prize is basically saying is be as destructive as you want regarding Zionism, but don’t be anti-Zionist.”

While the majority of submissions came from Israeli artists living in Israel, some came from Diaspora Jews like Stulman, who as a Zionist says he experienced a stifling of his pro-Israel art first-hand. As an undergrad at Penn State from 2001-2006 during the second intifada, Stulman created an exhibition that dealt with Holocaust denial in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, indoctrination of youth into terrorism, and Palestinian disregard for Jewish holy sites. But he says the entire arts faculty, initiated by his advisor, censored the exhibition, which never went up.

“This particular professor just had it in for Israel,” Stulman says. “He kind of pushed me into activism, because it wasn’t something I was entirely interested in doing to begin with.”

“It left me with a real desire to stand up in the fine arts, where I don’t see a lot of people standing up for Israel,” he adds.

Stulman went on to the Pratt Institute, where he graduated in 2010 with an MFA. While there he created a series of large-scale political cartoon paintings relating figures like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his comments at the United Nations regarding homosexuals. But Stulman decided this tactic was a little too hard-hitting and decided to shift to education, to use his artwork to inform about the Jewish state. Taking news articles straight from Israel and adapting them into adventure stories, Stulman’s black-and-white comic book is a combination of real-life events and fantasy in a 1940s serial spy tradition. His superhero Magen, meaning “shield” in Hebrew, is inspired by superheroes like Captain America, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

The artists behind Captain America, Stulman says, wanted Americans to talk about Nazism at a time when Americans were reluctant to, as World War II had not yet begun. Similarly, Magen ignites conversation about terrorism, what it is about, and how it operates, topics Stulman feels people are wary to raise.

Stulman cites Arthur Szyk’s “brilliant illustrating” in the golden age of comic books as a source of inspiration for his work. Szyk, a Jewish graphic artist, book illustrator, stage designer and caricaturist, fled his native Poland in 1937 and arrived in the U.S. in 1940. There, his art work supporting the creation of a Jewish state and wartime caricatures of Adolf Hitler and other Axis power leaders raised awareness and called viewers to action on behalf of Eastern European Jews. Szyk’s later work urged civil rights for African Americans.

Decades later, Stulman is seeking to make a name for himself through Magen, a superhero with a strong Zionist character. But Stulman hopes his audience will look at the art first and the message second.

“I want the comic to be viewed as a comic first in a way that Superman is viewed as a comic book first,” he says. “I want the artistic integrity. I love hearing the criticism.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.