Obey Obama: Shepherd Fairey's Barack-aganda

Obama the Giant Has A Posse

Not bad for a guy who started out making "Andre the Giant Has A Posse" stickers, eh?

Today, the campaign of Barack H. Obama unveiled its newest campaign tool -- a limited (but not too limited) edition poster of the candidate designed by Shepard Fairey, the street-art provocateur who helped popularize the idea of brand-theft/street-art/anti-marketing as a swiss-army tool of urban resistance. Let's first say this about the Barack posters: they're pretty fucking cool. The one at top was unveiled by Fairey on his own site and sold out in seconds (b&W paster pdf is available here if you want it; it's also available as a t-shirt.). The one at bottom is coming soon to an Obama online marketplace near you.

Even more remarkable is the personal thank-you note he got from Obama, in which the candidate bravely ignores the political consequences of endorsing the defacement of public property. It reads, in part:

"Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign. I am privileged to be a part of your artwork and proud to have your support." 

You heard it here first: Barack Obama, the wheat-paste candidate.

Although the Andre stickers were mainly a wacky RISD sk8er-boi in-joke at first, Fairey was able to speak enough artspeak to enough critics that he was granted his own artform. The idea of promoting something that doesn't exist is now so thoroughly ingrained in the culture (and on its lampposts) that it seems impossible to imagine a world without it. Fairey proved so good at promoting imaginary, anti-concept concepts that, inevitably, he was able to get lots of actual commercial work. Later, he developed a fetish for Soviet- and other mid-century Communist propoganda -- in the process further cementing some nice critic-friendly connections between consumer culture and totalitarian rule.

Here comes the punchline. Ready?

Shepard Fairey has now made the leap from making art about political propoganda to making political propoganda.

Without naming names, we will simply pause at this juncture to recall that history has not always been kind to artists who use their aesthetic talents in the service of coercive political messaging.

Then again, Mitt Romney had a posse first.

Here is Fairey's statement, courtesy of the Obama camp:

"I wanted to make an art piece of Barack Obama because I thought an iconic portrait of him could symbolize and amplify the importance of his mission. I believe Obama will guide this country to a future where everyone can thrive and I should support him vigorously for the sake of my two young daughters. I have made art opposing the Iraq war for several years, and making art of Obama, who opposed the war from the start, is like making art for peace. I know I have an audience of young art fans and I'm delighted I can encourage them to see the merits of Barack Obama."

We've admired Shephard's art for many years. Most recently, we jonsed severely for his MC5/White Panther Party streetwear line. But if you are the kind of person who just thought, "Shit, maybe they shouldn't be mentioning the words 'White Panther Party' and 'Barack Obama' in the same blog entry," then you understand why this whole thing is making us just a little bit uncomfortable.

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