In this week’s edition of the Spanish publication Magazine Fuera de Serie, Michelle Obama’s face was poorly photoshopped onto the body of a portrait from 1800 of a bare breasted slave woman. The magazine says it meant it as a compliment, but most people are pissed off about it. I think it’s just a crappy Photoshop job.
The cover of Magazine Fuera de Serie, which is widely available in Spain as a newspaper lifestyles supplement, shows the first lady’s face superimposed onto an 1800 portrait of a female slave by Marie-Guillemine Benoiste, a French neoclassical painter.
According to the magazine’s editor, the picture is meant to honor Michelle Obama who they call the “gran mujer” (great woman) who “conquered the heart” of the man who would be president and “seduced the American people.”
Many commentators aren’t seeing it that way. “Let’s be clear: This image has nothing to do with acknowledging Obama’s enslaved foremothers, and everything to do with reinforcing and extending the historical denial of black women’s individuality…” writes Althea Legal-Miller for The Clutch. She continues “The portrait robs Obama of her identity, voice, and intellect, and visually shackles her to a politically passive subject, resigned to an assigned role as slave.” The Frisky writer Jessica Wakeman calls it “plain old tasteless.”
Some art historians describe the original painting as a tribute to emancipation in France, which occurred in 1794 and also as a feminist statement linking the universal bondage of women to the institution of slavery. Benoiste was one of the few established female artists of her era. The reality is, the majority of people today who encounter the image will have little knowledge of its art historical significance. Instead they will simply see the first lady of the United States as a half nude servant. Accompanied by the headline, “Michelle, Granddaughter of a Slave, Lady of America” it’s more of a willfully ignorant attention-grab designed to spark controversy (and magazine sales) than a legitimate homage.
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