A former long-standing US resident myself, I’m guaranteed the inevitable ‘Who would you vote for at the polls this ’08 Presidential Election‘? I make no habit of hiding my viewpoints, instead favouring a forthrightness on which I base my expression; so my liberal leanings are perhaps obvious from my writings here. But to be honest, I’ve always been against labels, especially those of a political sort. In an effort to position myself on the left/right spectrum, I’ve settled for a healthy political agnosticism rooted in believing that political strains make more sense on paper than in reality — a reality in which practice deviates from theory once implemented in real society by real people. Otherwise, let’s be honest, apathy is the next most ‘politically correct’ alternative if not a staunch supporter. Nevertheless, the given election season does take place after a gruesome eight years of unilateral policy seeming to have led to everything from military stalemate and the undermining of security to international distrust and an unfolding of global recession. As such, it has left a yearning for alignment for sake of enlightenment: that ‘change’ one hears in speeches and desires to actually take place once ballots are cast and inaugurations begin.
‘Tis a monumental election for an exceptional time, some may say. Indeed it seems to be the case when one looks at what appears to be the unprecedented degree to which both presidential candidates have inspired the art world from the grassroots upwards. Looking back, I can recall no other election that has sparked so much artistic creation in support for either candidacy or political party. Admittedly during the years of the Bush Administration (has anyone noticed how little we hear of W. these days?), artists manifested their discontent in countless graphic interpretations of his image, drawing parallels spanning across the animal kingdom and devoting entire websites to an exercise in both visual and verbal expression. There is of course Jack Nicholson’s video in support of Hillary Clinton, as well as various artistic endeavours ranging from Warhol’s pop-art analysis of the Kennedy years, to the ‘first piece of video art‘ as purportedly manifested in the televising of the Watergate scandal and even dear Abe Lincoln’s own revival of sorts in modern art. But with both nominees bidding for what is deemed the most powerful political position on Earth at present, the visual impact has been tremendous, though arguably more so for Barack Obama than John McCain.
Art in its very nature tends to be political, and I’m extremely happy to see a showing of precisely the calibre that may very well contribute to the final outcome. Obama’s campaign posters, I must say, are quite extraordinary; after all, ‘Artists for Obama‘ help make them so. More notably, artist Shepard Fairey has taken the visual lead in helping to drive the poster-art movement under the Design for Obama initiative; meanwhile, speeches have been scrutinized and broken down into ‘Wordles’ such as those by photographer Thomas Hawk. Street art has also turned out a few original and inspired examples to channel similar messages across. Perhaps it is those things, however, less likely expected or more playful and humerous in their political portrayals that I enjoy the most — requiring that certain bit of ingenuity and creativity to truly bring the art world and the prized sport of democratic voting to full fruition. Gauging the latest trends as per usual, fashion has followed suit on the catwalk, and t-shirts are in abundance and effective even if slightly gimmicky. But my favourite of them all? A piece bordering on that fine line between the art of words and politics on a site simply fit for purpose: ‘Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle‘.
Sarah Badr © MMVIII
See also: The Obama Art Report