For Joshua Stulman, it’s pretty black and white.
In his new show, opening May 24 at Pratt Institute, the Brooklyn artist critically examines the use of Islam to justify terrorist actions.
In black, white and grey colors reminiscent of cartoons from the 1930s, Stulman’s pieces depict a cartoon figure wearing a turban tiptoeing about with a bomb that reads, “Made in Iran” in one. In another, the figure is placing child soldiers, all piled up like toys, in a “baby bomber launcher” — a comment on child indoctrination that’s prevalent in the artist’s work.
The cartoon character used in the majority of the pieces is based on a real person — Amin al-Husseini (also referred to as Mohammed Amin al-Husseini in history books).
Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921-1948 was a Palestinian nationalist with ties to the Nazi party. To Stulman, though, he lives on as nothing less than the father of Islamic radicalism, a militant who used suicide squads to rid Palestine of any dissenters and proclaimed a holy war against Israel when it declared statehood.
“Yasser Arafat has claimed him as the pinnacle — the greatest hero of Palestinian people,” said Stulman. “He created so much harm [yet] is the pinnacle that people should aspire to? There’s a correlation between the past and the present, where terrorist groups are using this guy as a poster boy.”
Stulman’s pieces are not just a criticism of the perversion of Islam to justify terrorist actions or of childhood indoctrination, but of the art community as a whole.
“I’m more concerned about the lack of support I see in the fine arts community for these political issues, such as childhood indoctrination, women’s rights and gay rights,” said Stulman. “There are major issues of censorship, especially with cartoons. You can’t say anything about certain things in Islam, which I don’t feel is right.”
Stulman himself is no stranger to censorship. While a student at Penn State University in 2006, the school cancelled an exhibition of his that explored Palestinian terrorist culture on the grounds that it “did not promote cultural diversity” or “opportunities for democratic dialogue.”
Stulman hopes that his new show, whose title, “How to Paint Moo-Ham-Mud” is a comment on the challenges artists face in criticizing Islam, will use subtle imagery rather than violence to appeal to people’s logic, rather than their heartstrings.
“I’m not interested in showing someone all bloodied up because of how horrible [terrorism] is. That’s too easy,” said Stulman, who is Jewish. “These use the comic format, but they’re really quite serious, even if it looks like they don’t want to be.”
“How to Paint Moo-Ham-Mud” at the Steuben Gallery in the Juliana Curran Design Center at Pratt Institute [200 Willoughby Ave. between Steuben Street and Graham Avenue in Clinton Hill, (718) 636-3514], May 24-28, with an opening night reception from 6-9 pm. For more, visit www.joshuastulman.com.