HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEW WORK by Shepard Fairey? You know, he’s the cat what did the famous and iconic Obama HOPE poster. I guess the high of being Everyone’s Favorite Poster Guy has worn off and someone’s looking for another hit!
I don’t mean to knock Señor Shepard unduly. So let me dust the powder off my wig and proceed to tell you coolly what bothers me personally about this image. I’ll start with what I like.
Striking color palette. Smart to avoid bright whites and go with vanilla/creme/offwhite background. Interesting choice of turquoise. I like that. Nice lines and style. Warmth in the eyes and in the tones of the “immigrant girl.” Strong central image, rays accentuate positive energy. I consider it a tip of the sombrero that Fairey’s hat text copies the choice of font I used here.
What don’t I like?
Trying too hard to be “ICONIC.” Fitting too many elements. Flowers, T shirt, Hat text, Fist…too crowded. And in all of that, no family. It is tradition in México/Latin America as well as in so many immigrant families to be centered around the family. That is so much of what the fight is about here. And she is all alone. And happy to be alone!?
Put the fist up. Look at this humble person. She won’t even meet your eyes. Put the fist up. It feels awkward to have her with a fist halfway raised, turned toward her own body, and looking off camera. This seems to me someone trying to tame the scary image of Latin American protest traditions and make it palatable to the masses of US political junkies, with whom S. Fairey is trying to score points.
Finally, the part that really bothers me. We Are Human?? Really? I don’t know. As I said on a list ayer, I know that immigrants are in the fight for Human Rights…but I didn’t think the “human” part was really in doubt!
What I also said on that list—and you may sniff this leaking through my comments that point toward a chasm in cultural connection—is that the Latin@ comunidad has a very rich and powerful history of political art, not only protest. So I look forward to seeing what gente create. Someone on this “brown” list I’m on said “I hope this becomes the icon for immigration reform!” I am sure that Shepard Fairey hopes this as well. I do not.
To me, this image is what happens when an outsider-looking-in accidentally projects their own alien view on an Other, even meaning well.
The bottom line is that the Whiteness Problem presents in various ways, even when attempting beneficence. And co-opting another culture and speaking for them is a common. I am not here to tell Mister Fairey he cannot express himself. There is always room for more art and nobody’s going to stop Fairey, anyway. He is a very well known artist and involved in a number of good causes. He has even defended himself in the past against somewhat similar criticisms:
It’s not like I’m just jumping on some cool rebel cause for the sake of exploiting it for profit. People like to talk shit, but it’s usually to justify their own apathy. I don’t want to demean anyone’s struggles through casual appropriation of something powerful; that’s not my intention.”
Intention…I seem to recall a few discussions online centered around this concept.
Personally, I think the intention was simply cash and fame, or more of it. But maybe I’m being too…sensitive.