Shepard Fairey, arguably one of the most popular American artists of our time (or at least one of the most visible), announces support for the Occupy Wall Street movement on the his website. Although it seems obvious that his support of the movement would assist the movement in terms of popularity and visibility, one particular artwork actually hindered the movement by presenting the wrong message to its viewers.
Fairey’s original image raised concerns within the OWS movement, which considers itself non-partisan. This original print directly addresses the President in addition to mimicking the iconic HOPE poster that Fairey created in support of Obama’s campaign. Upon receiving a letter from an anonymous OWS protester that expressed concern with the image, Fairey indicated that he thinks that President Obama could be an ally to the OWS protesters, while the anonymous protester points out that Obama has gotten much monetary support from Wall Street and that he is not supported by OWS. The anonymous letter continues to offer suggestions for Fairey, including changing the message from “Hope” to “We are Hope”. They also suggest moving away from the Obama imagery all together with the sentiment that “To reduce us to an Obama re-election campaign will not help anyone. Our political system is corrupt and broken. As naive as it may sound, we have to stop looking to leaders and we must be the change.”
Interestingly, Fairey makes very few of these changes. He removes the direct appeal to the president, changing the sentiment from “Mr President, we hope you’re on our side” to “We are the hope”, and adds “Occupy Wall Street” onto the 99% button.
Fairey’s written response to the message gets a little defensive; he states that “I did not make the Occupy HOPE image to become THE image for Occupy. I believe very strongly in the Occupy movement, but I’m looking more at the politics of the entire nation than the politics within Occupy.” Yet, with his level of fame and the influence of the internet, how could Fairey NOT expect this image to be important?
As much as Fairey supports the OWS movement through various posters, this particular poster became a big concern for many OWS protesters and may have led to some confusion should viewers make the connection of this poster with the Obama HOPE poster.