Je Suis Charlie

Below is an excerpt of what my father, Tomi Ungerer, wrote the day after the Charlie Hebdo murders.  It is still a work in progress and no doubt he will have much more to say.  Right now though my sense is that he is still too upset to articulate the complexity and depth of his feelings.  The feature image shown here is a drawing he made, also the following day and very much off the cuff.  We have also included two images that we felt were particularly pertinent to the situation – a poster designed for Reporters Without Borders in 1992 and a drawing of a man running from a pencil attack.  We have also included (in French) information about the exhibition that was put together immediately at the Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg following the murders in Paris.

(Aria Ungerer)

Tomi Ungerer reacts to the Charlie Hebdo murders:

A cold-blooded butchery in Paris, a wanton sacrifice to the altar of loathing.   Every bullet shot at my brothers has hit my conscious self – I feel as if I had been killed by proxy.

As a child I experienced the fanatic and ruthless rule of a criminal Nazi regime.  Thus I dedicated my career to fighting prejudice, injustice, violence and fanaticism and as a consequence of my work, I know how it feels to get anonymous death threats, to be banned and ostracized.  I know how anger can degenerate into hatred, which is a contagious disease, a virus with pandemic potentials.  I hate hate!

We must not succumb to fear and hatred, we must not fall into the trap of generalizations.  Why should innocent Muslims pay for atrocities committed by waylaid disciples?

We must reassess within ourselves the lessons that can be drawn from the actual and coming events.  It is the origin of this rampaging madness that we have to analyze in order to better understand it.  We might have to atone and admit that our Western society is at the roots of such desperate behavior.  The way it imposed its own set of values, disregarding susceptibility and pride that created such odious reactions.

Mutual respect is after all the key to peace and understanding.

(From a phone interview with Phaidon on January 8th – edited):

“Last night, when I was watching television with my wife, it reminded me of the Nazis,” he said. “It’s a different kind of blackmail, a variation on the theme.”

Ungerer was on good terms with the magazine. He had been profiled in the title, and staff there had asked him to contribute. “They did a wonderful double page on me,” he told Phaidon over the phone from his home in the Republic of Ireland. “Their cartoons with speech bubbles isn’t really my style, but I respected them.”

Moreover, as an artist who has contributed to anti-Vietnam protests, freedom of speech campaigns, and who has worked on  community relations as Ambassador for Childhood and Education by the 47-nation Council of Europe, Ungerer has devoted much of his adult life to defending the kind of liberties Charlie Hebdo’s staff also championed. “They knew I was one of them,” he said. “All my life I’ve been on the barricades.”

Last night, Ungerer told French TV Station Alsace 3: “It is difficult to react when you feel dismayed. I consider it unclean.  A free and democratic country that is subjected to blackmail, plunged into a totalitarian situation.  Satire must continue.  Terrorism does not have a sense of humour.  That’s well known”.

While he fears for the repercussions – “the National Front are going to love it”- Ungerer told us this morning that he believes the universal appeal of freedom remains.

He says the Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg has already made plans to host a themed exhibition in a show of solidarity with the murdered cartoonists, and that, in his day-to-day work, he also finds sources of hope.

“I’ve just been answering questions for my regular column in Philosophie magazine,” he explained. “An eight year old from Brazil wrote in to ask ‘what is infinity, and what is it inside of?’”

Tomi’s reply, which he translated from the French for us is that, “infinity is the space neither with limits nor borders. It is a free space; when we conceive it in our our minds, it becomes a refuge.” A pertinent thought, perhaps, from someone quite used to defending tangible threats to liberty.

Je suis Charlie : Hommage à Charlie Hebdo au Musée Tomi Ungerer

La Ville de Strasbourg s’engage pour la liberté de la presse et la liberté d’expression. Un hommage à Charlie Hebdo, à ses illustrateurs décédés Cabu, Charb, Honoré, Tignous et Wolinski, ainsi qu’à l’ensemble des victimes, est organisé au Musée Tomi Ungerer- Centre international de l’illustration du samedi 10 au dimanche 18 janvier 2015.

Cet hommage prend la forme d’une petite présentation de numéros historiques d’Hara-Kiri et de Charlie Hebdo, de quelques dessins originaux des illustrateurs disparus et de documents audiovisuels.

L’inlassable combat de Tomi Ungerer pour les libertés, la justice et la paix prend aujourd’hui un sens particulier dans le musée qui lui est consacré, en accueillant cet hommage aux grands dessinateurs de presse et illustrateurs qui viennent de disparaître dont l’audace, la vigilance, l’engagement et le talent marqueront à jamais leur époque.

L’accès au Musée sera gratuit le samedi 10 et dimanche 11 janvier, dispositif qui permettra au plus grand nombre de s’associer à l’hommage rendu par la Ville.

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