Joann Sfar Conjures Marc Chagall

The Politics of Visual Representation in The Rabbi's Cat

in European Comic Art
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The five episodes of Joann Sfar's The Rabbi's Cat (2002-2006), recently published in English translation in two volumes (2007-2008), and particularly the latest instalment of the series, Africa's Jerusalem, are rich in meta-narrative and meta-iconic elements. By staging various theological arguments about aniconism in Abrahamic religions, Sfar uses the comics medium to reflect on the prohibition of graphic representation in Judaism and Islam (following the Jyllands-Posten Danish cartoons controversy and the trial of the French satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo ). He also distances his work from the usual Western stance on realistic mimesis and its pseudo-scientific epistemology by criticising the European constructs of race and exoticism. Between the anti-iconic prohibition of the East and the false iconicity of the West, Sfar finds a middle ground in the anonymous character of a Russian painter travelling through Africa in the 1930s, whose physical appearance and biographical background recall that of famous Franco-Russian Jewish painter, Marc Chagall. This article will explore how the painter's cultural hybridity and artistic idiosyncrasy allow Sfar to negotiate a perspective on graphic representation which resolves the problem of simulacrum as it is framed in this binary opposition. It will also discuss the manners in which Sfar borrows from Chagall's aesthetics and magic realism in the process, thus creating a new kind of image in the realm of comics.