The Star

Translation/Interpretation/Caption Text: 

From: Voice - AIGA ninth National Design Conference, Washington DC - 2002

Reviewed by John L. Walters

"Bierut noted that at AIGA conferences, the most interesting debates and conversations always took place away from the main stage, in coffee bars and corridors. The point was grabbed mischievously the following morning by Hockenberry, who gave a stern warning that anyone found having a conversation that was less interesting than those taking place on the stage would be thrown out.

This came to mind later on, when I chanced upon a little exhibition entitled ‘Don’t Say You Didn’t Know’, tucked away on the lower ground floor behind the trade exhibitors. Its subject matter was both contemporary and incendiary: the plight of the Palestinian people, expressed through a series of simple, inkjet-printed colour posters. Designers who had contributed work included Roger Cook, Yossi Lemel, Rebecca Rapp and Dana Bartelt, the curator.

When a delegate suggested that some of the posters were anti-Semitic, other passers-by were quickly drawn into a discussion about the exhibition’s right to exist under the AIGA aegis. (You can read some of the arguments surrounding this project on the AIGA Voice website). Bartelt is a New Orleans-based educator, whose interest was sparked when some Israeli friends invited her to see what was happening on the West Bank, and the posters – many of them based on a simple ‘big idea’ – tackled several aspects of the situation, from water supplies and death during childbirth to ideology and economic aid."

From the Voice2 - AIGA Discussions Forum:

Roger Cook's justification for using the Star of David is reasoned, but what this once again proves is the power of charged symbols to ingnite emotion and prompt reaction. I too think it takes courage to present unpopular ideas in a public forum, but I continue to argue that intelligence must prevail. It is one thing to use symbols to shock and quite another to make effective communication.

In the original show cited by Mr. Cook posters representing varying views had one common goal, to perpetuate the peace process. They cast no stones. The current exhibit (even including posters from the earlier one) is a critical mass made more volatile given the horror brought on by today's suicide killers and military violence.

If we cannot appreciate how our work (especially the manipulation of signs and symbols) serves to communicate conflicting messages, then we're in the wrong business. Therefore, addressing Mr. Cook's final point, I have invoked words (and symbols) in my critique purposefully in an attempt to rebut the destructive symbolism found in this exhibit.

Steven Heller, New York, 16-Apr-02

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The Star is a stunningly psychological poster that ignites a chain reaction of questions about organized Zionism and its impact on the United States.

The stars on the American flag are five-pointed; here, an American flag is wrapped around the six-pointed Magen David (Hebrew: Star of David), the national political emblem of modern Israel as well as the iconic symbol of Zionism. The Star is boldly set out against a white background with no accompanying text, thereby deliberately focusing the viewer’s attention on the artist’s provocative premise.

With this poster, designer Roger Cook ascends from the pack of politically timid American artists to challenge a taboo. Though Israeli and Jewish poster artists regularly treat the Magen David with the same high degree of political irreverence that American artists show for the Stars and Stripes, until Cook the Magen David had been treated as off-limits by American artists. Cook fuses the U.S. flag and the Star of David to make a political declaration: that Zionism is a significant internal force in American political life, capable of morphing it into a new and alien shape. The poster challenges Americans to review the assumptions that have allowed Zionism to flourish without question or restraint.

Some view The Star as patently anti-Semitic. This is an egregiously under-informed response. This thoughtful, seminal poster has absolutely nothing in common with the paranoid, artless drivel produced by domestic lumpen anti-Semitism. It belongs to a diametrically different genre, that of the principled, historically legitimated arts of the contemporary American left, such as that which blossomed out of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of the mid-1960s and the anti-Vietnam war movement, for example.

Posters like this are subject to criticism from the hasbara (Hebrew: Israel advocacy, solidarity) movement on the grounds that it only presents one side. Yet this is political art; it takes a stand. It is not the intent or the responsibility of a political artist to provide balance within the context of a single work. Artists with opposing views are free, indeed welcome, to respond to The Star with their own publicly-shared art; balance results from interplay, not from a single poster.

Posters like this have been condemned on the grounds that they only criticize Israel. The hasbara argument is that the violations of human and political rights in Chechnya, Burma, South Africa, and a host of other places represent far worse examples of oppression than those found in the Occupied Territories; therefore, so the hasbara argument goes, the focus of criticism on Israel amounts to anti-Semitism.

However, the carnage and destruction in Chechnya reflects on the morality of the Russian government and people, not on the United States. The oppression of the people of Burma is a reflection on the Burmese junta, not on the United States. Post-apartheid South Africa has many problems, but ordinary Americans have no hand in creating them. Because of the immense political and financial involvement of the U.S. in building and maintaining Israel, that country’s actions do reflect on the moral character of Americans. Israel advocacy cannot have it both ways: it cannot claim a special relationship the United States and then react with indignation and charges of anti-Semitism when Americans question the particulars of that relationship.

Perhaps the greatest gift of Cook’s poster is that it asserts the right of Americans to disassociate from Zionism. In an in-depth series of articles published by The Washington Post in the early 1980s, a senior executive of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said, “Zionism is like a mushroom: it grows best in the dark.”

With this poster, Cook makes the argument for light

Dan Walsh/Liberation Graphics