From Rihanna being called a n*gger b*tch by a Dutch magazine to the caricatured objectification of the Hottentot Venus, images of black women in the media have long since been deemed controversial, often times crossing the volatile lines of racism and sexism. As seen on this month’s cover of Spain's Fuera de Serie, even the First Lady Michelle Obama is fair game.
The Spanish Magazine either decided to go provocative or political when featuring a manipulated image of the first lady pictured as a topless, enslaved woman.
Taken from the “Famous Nudes” series done by artist Karine Percheron-Daniels, the painting was created by superimposing Obama’s face onto the body of the Black enslaved woman shown in the 1800 “Portrait d’une négresse” by French artist Marie-Guillemine Benoist.
Clearly provoked by the sight of Obama showcased as an enslaved woman, the black blogosphere has waged a digital war against the cover, claiming that the image is nothing short of blatantly racist propaganda.
“By choosing to use such a jarring image to tell the story of how America’s first lady “seduced the people of the United States” and “stole the heart of Barack Obama,” as Fuera de Serie describes her,” writes Brande Victorian of Madame Noire, “it’s clear the magazine agrees with that mentality and wants to spread the message loud and clear: todavía estamos esclavos. We are still slaves.”
In the series’ description on Percheron-Daniels website states: , “With my art, and particularly with my’ famous nudes’ series I try to offer an alternative unexpected reality to allow the viewer to re-examine his unique subjective experience and general understanding and view the world and people in a different way.”
Percheron-Daniels’ explanation for her series has been challenged in various response blog posts, including Althea Legal-Millers’ “Michelle Obama Undressed: Lost in Translation or Just Racist?”
In her post for Clutch Magazine, Miller debates whether or not a social critique and condemnation of Percheron-Daniels’ image counters her belief in freedom of expression.
“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,” wrote Miller.
“I do not support the censorship of art," she continued "However, the mass reproduction of this nude portrait on the cover of a national newspaper supplement is a legitimate concern. Of all the stock images that might have been pulled for the cover, I find the editorial decision to portray Obama as the embodiment of enslavement and colonization extremely troubling.”
In July 2008 a controversial cover of The New Yorker also landed the magazine in hot water with the African American community. The issue featured a black militant, afro-clad Michelle Obama fist bumping an Osama Bin Laden-like Barack Obama.
Like the First Ladies before her, Michelle Obama will certainly be the subject of controversial situations in the media, yet as the first African American FLOTUS, racialized images will sadly also be a part of the package.
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Here's a look at our favorite magazine covers featuring the FLOTUS.