The handout art for American Caricature -- an exhibit of international political cartoons opening this weekend -- features the silhouette of Alfred E. Neuman superimposed over the American flag. Given our president's resemblance to the Mad magazine mascot, some will see the image as a spoof on the Bush administration. But Gary Huck, who created the image and curated the exhibit, says he has a broader target in mind.
"I want people to leave this exhibit feeling like they could be inside that silhouette too," says Huck. "Because in a way, we've all gone mad."
American Caricature is a form of intervention, where international cartoonists get U.S. viewers into a room and hold up a mirror to them. The show features 76 works by 37 artists from a dozen countries (including the U.S.). Not surprisingly, most of the work comments on Iraq and the war on terror -- although, sadly, the show lacks any Middle Eastern perspectives. "It's a weakness of the show," Huck admits. But no matter what their nationality, Huck says, contributors felt, "This is long overdue.
Huck works as a cartoonist for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, one of the most progressive -- and pugnacious -- unions in U.S. history. And he says he chose work that was "based on stronger ideology than the local newspaper expects." In fact, the show includes at least one cartoon Huck says even he is "a little afraid of": George Bush standing on a rowboat, pissing over the side into the face of a drowning Katrina victim.
"That's going to upset some people," Huck predicts.
Other works are more subtle, even cryptic. Japanese cartoonist Tamada Kyoko, for example, offers a reprise on the Garden of Eden story: In this telling, the snake offers Eve not an apple but an olive branch -- the symbol of peace.
Is the point that pacifism is the devil's tool? Huck isn't sure, although he notes that the Iraq war spurred debate in Japan about deploying its own military abroad, for the first time since World War II. Even when cartoonists weigh in on the United States, Huck says, the national values they reflect are their own: "As a cartoonist, you're constantly struggling with the nuances of your government and culture."
And ultimately, whether Huck agrees with Kyoko isn't the point.
"I didn't censor anyone, because that would be the opposite of my values. I'm not an editor," Huck says. Anyway, he adds, "I'm to the left of everyone. If I only included people I agree with, there'd be nobody in the show."
American Caricature: An exhibit of political cartoons. Opening reception: 5:30-9 p.m. Fri., Sept 14. Three Rivers Arts Festival Gallery, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-365-0270