On newsstands across Spain, Michelle Obama can be seen gracing the August 2012 cover of Magazine Fuera de Serie, a lifestyle supplement to the newspaper Expansión. She is seated on a chair draped in the American flag, partially nude in slave attire, complete with one of Aunt Jemima’s chicer headscarves. Perhaps because it seems so obviously offensive, the mind attempts to rationalize; “Did this get lost in translation, or is this as racist as I think?”
As a black British woman, born and raised in London, I am acutely aware of other recent European racist train wrecks concerning the representation of black womanhood: the Dutch magazine Jackie “deconstructing” Rihanna’s style under the obscene headline “De Ni**ab*tch” and Sweden’s minister of culture cutting into a cake depicting a caricature of a naked black woman to name but two. Unfortunately, this Michelle Obama/Slave Woman mash-up sees Europe produce yet another epic fail in black female representation.
The magazine cover for the feature article “Michelle Tataranieta De Esclava, Dueña De América” (Michelle Granddaughter of a Slave, Lady of America) is the brainchild of white French/English fine artist Karine Percheron-Daniels. Her mixed-media portrait superimposes Obama’s head onto the famous art-historical body of an African Guadeloupean female slave painted by French artist Marie-Guilhelmine Benoist in 1800.
Percheron-Daniels’ portrait, First Lady, was not commissioned for the Spanish magazine cover, but is part of a larger series of “famous nudes” that includes Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II, Abraham Lincoln, and President Barack Obama. In defense of her controversial series, the artist argues that she offers the viewer an “alternative unexpected reality” that allows us to “view famous individuals in a different way.”
But what does the composite of Obama’s face with the nude body of a nameless slave woman say about the way we have been invited to “view” the first lady and, by extension, black female communities of the diaspora?
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