Shepard Fairey Recants on Obama (sorta)

2011 November 21
by Ando Arike

Way back in March 2010, when the Williamsburg Observer had just gone online, I posted an “Open Letter to Shepard Fairey” that called on the artist to disavow his iconic Obama “Hope” poster — by then, it had become glaringly obvious that the Obama administration was only sightly less evil than its predecessor. Pointing out to Shepard that his artistic credibility was taking a big hit through his association with Brand Obama, I wrote:

“…as I’m sure you’re aware, your work’s reputation is now yoked, for better or worse, to the candidate you helped put into office, and he’s turning out to be just as awful as George W. Bush. I’m not in the habit of quoting Sarah Palin, but as she recently asked an audience, “How’s that hope-y, change-y thing workin’ out for ya?”

Well, it’s taken more than eighteen months, but with a push from the Occupy Wall Street movement, Shepard Fairey has finally come to his senses. In a remix of his ’08 election year poster, he replaces Obama with the iconic Guy Fawkes mask, which since the 2006 film “V for Vendetta,” has been a symbol for anarchist-tinged revolt. The poster also features a reworked Obama campaign logo, altered to read “WE ARE THE 99%” and the words “Mister President, we HOPE you’re on our side.” Explaining the new image, Fairey writes on his website:

This image represents my support for the Occupy movement, a grassroots movement spawned to stand up against corruption, imbalance of power, and failure of our democracy to represent and help average Americans. On the other hand, as flawed as the system is, I see Obama as a potential ally of the Occupy movement if the energy of the movement is perceived as constructive, not destructive. I still see Obama as the closest thing to “a man on the inside” that we have presently. Obviously, just voting is not enough. We need to use all of our tools to help us achieve our goals and ideals. However, I think idealism and realism need to exist hand in hand. Change is not about one election, one rally, one leader, it is about a constant dedication to progress and a constant push in the right direction. Let’s be the people doing the right thing as outsiders and simultaneously push the insiders to do the right thing for the people. I’m still trying to work out copyright issues I may face with this image, but feel free to share it and stay tuned…

Unfortunately, the question implied by the poster’s “Mister president we hope you’re on our side” may already have been answered in the negative: there is growing suspicion — and evidence — that last week’s violent nationwide crackdown on the Occupy movement was coordinated at the Federal level through the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

Alas, Fairey’s trust in the basic inner benevolence of Obama seems far too naive. I propose that a stronger gesture is needed — as I suggested in my March 2010 letter:

Do you want to redeem yourself, Shepard? To regain the respect of your audience? Then publicly renounce your famous “Hope” poster—burn one at a press conference! It’s time to make a dramatic break with Brand Obama, to admit your mistake. And to further illustrate your penitence and disdain for the Administration, why not , at the same press conference, settle a large donation upon a charitable NGO in Afghanistan and Pakistan?—perhaps a group like Medicins sans Frontieres working to alleviate some of the suffering that the occupation and Predator drone attacks have caused for innocent civilians. You can rid yourself of this stain! Repeat after me, “Yes, we can!”

Peace, Ando

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