Cartoonist turns to installations promoting peaceRanan Lurie leaned back in his chair in his suite at a five-star hotel in central Seoul during a recent visit to Korea, casually dropping names of former Korean presidents he had met over the years.
Here is a man who has appeared twice in the same Guinness Book of World Records as “the world’s most widely syndicated political cartoonist,” and as a descendant of the oldest recorded continuing family tree. (Some of the great ancestors from the Lurie line reportedly include King David of Israel in the 10th century B.C. and Karl Marx.)
That’s a very fancy profile for a man who introduces himself as an artist of more than five decades. But the retired political cartoonist, now 74, has found a new way to exert his influence on world politics ― this time through public art.
His visit to Korea was arranged by the United Nations as part of his long-term project to create “Uniting Painting,” outdoor installations in world capitals as a message of peace .
His first major series of the project was done in the lobby of the UN headquarters in New York in 2005, in which he painted a series of what he calls “carpets” from the ceiling of the building’s lobby out the door to the bank of the Hudson River.
His next series, in Imjingak Park near the Korean Demilitarized Zone, will be paintings on steel extending toward the DMZ 15 kilometers (9 miles) away. The Imjingak installation was opened for the World Peace Festival on Thursday; he plans a similar installation on the North Korean side of the border.
“I have tremendous respect and sympathy for the people of the same blood forced to live apart from each other due to political reasons,” Mr. Lurie says. “But I have a problem with any regime that advocates concentration camps and dictatorship, whether it’s the Nazis, Stalin or North Korea.”
He faces some political opposition here; a cartoonists’ syndicate has complained that a man critical of the North Korean regime is in no position to comment on peace in Korea. Mr. Lurie shrugs off such criticism: “My work is about uniting people, not about uniting regimes,” he insists.
He was no fan of strongmen on this side of the DMZ either. He recalls peppering Chun Doo Hwan with questions about Korean democracy in an interview at the Blue House in the 1980s. He ostentatiously closed his notebook and sulked when Mr. Chun refused to answer. He says gleefully that Mr. Chun, aware of Mr. Lurie’s friendship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, handled him with kid gloves.
He also recalls a wrong turn by his driver on the way to the Blue House and being accosted by eight soldiers firing warning shots into the air. “I was fascinated by the scene,” he said. “I got a flavor of what Korea looked like.”
Mr. Lurie also recalled with amusement how Kim Young-sam’s hair color changed from gray to pure black before the election campaign; he also remembered a piece of advice from Kim Dae-jung: “you must have the courage in art to combine brain and heart.”
For years, one of Mr. Lurie’s artistic missions had been to depict the faces of politicians without making them look “so grotesque.” Richard Nixon’s nose was one example, but Mr. Lurie said he tried to look beyond such caricatures. “Politicians broadcast their personalities,” he explains. “Many world leaders are so used to their power that they broadcast their image without knowing how dangerous it is to them.”
Although some of the political glad-handing instinct appeared to have rubbed off on Mr. Lurie, it’s different when he talks about principles of art.
“Peace is not something to talk about,” he says. “It has to be seen. If my work gets installed in North Korea, it will be a sign that ‘art is functioning.’”
by Park Soo-mee