A Spanish magazine’s depiction of Michelle Obama as a slave with one breast exposed has stirred up an old controversy about the depiction of Black women in popular culture.
Taken from the “Famous Nudes” series done by artist Karine Percheron-Daniels, the August cover of Fuera de Serie has critics debating whether the image choice was meant to be a political statement or merely an attention-grabber; whether it is an offense or simply art.
In the painting, the first lady’s face is overlaid on the 1800 “Portrait d’une négresse,” which some art commentators say was a statement on the end of Emancipation and the nascent feminist movement in early 19th century France.
Created by French artist Marie-Guillemine Benoist, the painting depicts a female French slave in a headdress and white gown, one breast exposed. In Percheron-Daniel’s version, the first lady is also draped in an American flag.
In an explanation of their cover story, the magazine called Michelle Obama the “gran mujer” (great woman) behind the history-making U.S. president, Barack Obama.
“In the shadow of the U.S. President is a person whose popularity ratings exceed those of Barack’s own. This person is none other than his wife Michelle… To find out how Michelle has managed to seduce the American people . . . detail the secrets of a woman has not only won the heart of Barack Obama,” an except reads.
Some critics say, however, that the image is another racist, misogynist objectification of Black women, as was, for example, a Dutch magazine’s article about Rihanna’s fashion sense that bore the headline, “De Niggabitch.”
“I find the editorial decision to portray Obama as the embodiment of enslavement and colonization extremely troubling,” especially since the image undermines the story, wrote Althea Legal-Miller in Clutch magazine.
She added, “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 and agency.”
For her part, Percheron-Daniel said her painting was not meant to offend, and was more of a compliment.
“As an artist I only paint and create pictures of people I admire and feel passionate about. Michelle Obama is one of these people,” the artist said on her website. “In my eyes, the picture I created here is of a beautiful woman with a beautiful message : The first Lady of America in the first time in history is a Black woman who proudly and confidently displays her WOMANHOOD (the nude), her ROOTS (the slave) and her POWER (the First Lady of America embraced by the American flag).
“This picture, is a celebration of EVERYTHING GOOD, it is a celebration of achievement and in my opinion is not a racist slur.”