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In 2008, Barack Hussein Obama was seen by many across the world as a vehicle for change. His anti-war rhetoric, apparent sincerity, embrace of youth culture and progressive domestic agenda made him the American president the world would vote for. During his election campaign, which used elements of social media marketing, viral and crowd-sourced advertising, Amber Lee Ettinger became Obama Girl, will.i.am produced the song “We Are The Ones“ to express his support of the candidate alongside various American Celebrities. Shepeard Fairey, who came to fame for producing the Obey Giant posters, independently designed an iconic poster (1), based on a photograph by Manny Garcia.
The artists intention, to create a poster that would “deracialise Mr. Obama, […] something that would elevate him to iconic status in the vein of people who had [preceded] him…” proved successful, as the poster became one of the central images of the campaign. 350 000 posters subtitled “Hope” were produced during the campaign, most of which were distributed through campaign workers and events. Associated Press, the copyright holders of the photograph that served as the basis for the poster, later sued Fairey for unlicensed use of the picture and he was heavily criticised by other artists for “brazen, intentional copying of already existing artworks created by others”. However, the poster and its bold, reduced colour scheme became one of the images most closely associated with Barack Obama, instantly recognised in many countries. The poster was satirised by MAD Magazine by depicting their mascot, Alfred E. Newman, as the “Hopeless” candidate (2), amongst many other humorous versions. It has become part of the visual vocabulary of current politics and is preserved in the collective memory as one of the most iconic examples of image politics currently circulating, widely spread and shared.
By 2010, as the popularity of the former paragon of hope and change began to fade, the images connected to him came to reflect this shift in public perception. The Hopeless (3) subtitle was adopted in a remix of the original poster, which spread rapidly through the internet. Fairey subsequently made a poster depicting a protester wearing a Guy Fawkes (4) mask in the same style in support of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Although the initial version did reference the president with the line “Mr. President, we HOPE you’re on our side.”, for the artist saw the president as “a potential ally of the Occupy movement”, the quote was later shortened to “We are the HOPE” after the organisers expressed that they could not “in any way be connected to this design.”as it connected them visually and semantically to Obamas 2012 re-election campaign.
2013 saw the recontextualisation of this visual to suit the landscape of Egyptian politics. Nazeer, a graphic designer and street artist, adopted the language of the poster to express his opinion on the countries next president, Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi, stating that “the Egyptian military junta and its American politico-financial ally are shown as making a mockery of the electoral process and civilian rule.”
He thus created a glocalised version of an image which is closely associated with the American political apparatus, a poster depicting al-Sisi in military uniform, using the same colour scheme as the original poster, Obama campaign pin displayed on his lapel, subtitled “Joke” (5).
REFLECTIONS ON THE HOPE POSTER CASE, Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, Spring 2012
Vallen, M.; Obey Plagiarist Shepard Fairey; http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm, Dec. 2007
Mad Magazine; Issue #495; http://www.madmagazine.com/issues/mad-495; Oct. 2008
A Google search will return 13.300 000 results
Fairey, S.; OCCUPY HOPE, http://www.obeygiant.com/headlines/occupy-hope; 2011
Gray, R. Shepard Fairey Changes Unpopular 'Occupy Hope' Poster Under Pressure; http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2011/11/shepard_fairey_6.php ; Nov. 2011