Shepard Fairey, the artist most known for his portrait of Barack Obama which went viral during the 2008 Presidential campaign, is using his art to shine a light on the Occupy movement. After seeing his new poster supporting the movement, above, and reading the accompanying excerpt on his website, obeygiant.com, we spoke with Shepard to discuss the movement as well as the picture in more detail.
Check out our exclusive with Shepard:
I stopped by Occupy in New York after everybody was displaced from Zuccotti Park, I gave some stickers out and expressed my support.
On the actual movement...
The more people who are successful, that are a constructive part of the movement, the better because the way that the right wing wants to discredit the movement is (by saying) ‘Oh, well it’s a bunch of out-of-work people with nothing better to do than stir up trouble.’ For the most part, I absolutely disagree with that, even though I do think that rebellion is always attractive to some people that may be a bit young and naïve. I think it’s better to be overzealous than apathetic (laughs).
On his new image...
I did the ‘HOPE’ image in 2008. I’ve made some images that were about corporate greed and political influence—Ronald Reagan holding up a sign that said “Legislative Influence for sale” a business man who’s read “Corporate violence for sale” –and I did these before the Occupy movement even started, and those images are about calling out the villains.
This new image to me is really about expressing my support of the movement with the use of the ‘V for Vendetta’ Guy Fawkes, as a symbol that’s been appropriated by the movement. There’s no more appropriate symbol of the lack of hierarchy and sort of universal ‘we’re all as one’ side of the movement than that mask that’s also an easily understood and recognized image.
Things get a little more complicated because I support the movement and I find a lot of hope in activism but I also think that the danger with some of the people from Occupy is that they love this idea of revolution—tear down the system and rebuild it, and I actually think that there is a very unrealistic and potentially unproductive side to that mentality which is that 1. The opposition to the movement is going to hone in on the more extreme voices and try to use those as representative of the entire movement, which can be harmful because I think for the most part it’s an incredibly intelligent, civilized and tolerant, all really good things in contrast to the tea party. Then I also believe that Obama at his core shares a lot of values with the movement but he’s not communicated effectively, he’s not stood up for his beliefs in a way that I think demonstrates his solidarity with the ideals of Occupy but I do think he’s someone that is in an incredible position of power to be pushing these ideas in the right direction.
There’s two things that I’m trying to achieve with this poster. One is to very clearly demonstrate my support for the movement. I’ve subverted my most well-known image which I think is a strong gesture. At the same time to say ‘Mr. President, I hope you’re on our side’ and say I’m hopeful for the movement and I’m also hopeful that this doesn’t just have to be about being an outsider, that we can find allies on the inside with Obama being the most powerful and biggest one.
It’s a very optimistic approach in the poster. One of the reasons I think that the poster in 2008 worked was because it was not about dividing people, it was about uniting people with optimism. After the Bush administration, which was a very dark period in American history, I think a lot of people wanted to believe in something.
I absolutely believe that the corporate villains need to be called out and the manipulation by the lobbyists, the money, all the terrible things that Wall Street has gotten away with, I believe all of this needs to be recognized and I also think that the movement progressing in a positive way that’s about reform rather than revolution is what I’d like to see. Not everyone will agree with me but that’s how I’m putting it out there.
On Russell Simmons joining the movement...
Occupy has got me excited but also concerned about it working in the best way possible.
One of the things that I’m worried about is, I know (Russell) has been heckled as part of the one percent by some people that I think were really missing the point which is that there’s nothing wrong with being successful if you’re using that success to corrupt the political process and not enrich yourself while you harm the lives of others. He’s part of the solution, not part of the problem.
For more on the Occupy Movement click here.