Thursday, November 04, 2004

The above image (hosted at ImageShack) was created by Joe at American Leftist. (He doesn't give his last name.) If it isn't obvious, the President's face is composed of a mosaic of portraits of American servicemen and women who've died in Iraq. Here's what he has to say about it:
'War President' is meant to be a satirical commentary, informed by the whole project of using the dead as political props.
(It may be worth pointing out that in Joe's list, he gives examples in which faces [nor names] are not used, unlike his own work. In fact, he counts the administration's ban on images from their funerals as a Political Use. I confess I don't follow his logic there. And he doesn't mention the "shoe exhibit" at the Democratic convention, although there's a perfectly good reason for that: This image was created in April, well before the convention. If Joe has an opinion of the exhibit, he hasn't recorded it.)
...An image is like an empty room and any message that one reads in that room necessarily came in the baggage one carried when one walked in the door. If I made a mosaic of George Washington composed of images of the American dead from the revolution, would viewers likely take that image as an indictment of Washington? I submit that they would not. It would be viewed as a monument to the dead and a celebration of a great leader, a somewhat maudlin monument maybe but surely not offensive.
I agree. (Although surely it does matter that these young people have living wives, husbands, parents, and children? Families who weren't asked whether they approved of the use to which their love one's likeness was put?)

The trouble is, once you create an image and turn it loose in the world, whatever your intent, it's no longer yours to control. Ask the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who have quite deliberately made no attempt to control the use of perhaps the most famous symbol of its time.

And sometimes events overtake art, which leads it to take on a significance its creator could not have foreseen.

There are a few additional points to be made about this particular portrait. One is that, by implication, it overstates the number of dead in Iraq. Joe has made no secret of the fact that he used some portraits as many as three times.

And I probably wouldn't be talking about it at all if Michael Moore hadn't chosen to remove every link on his site in favor of presenting this image, presumably intended as a statement of mourning for the lost Kerry campaign. (I can only guess: Mike gives no explanation. Nor does he credit the artist. Shame, shame, Mike.)

Never mind. Take your time, Mike. I know this must be a bad time for you. (Mike! Come down off that ledge!)

More from Michelle Malkin, who isn't nearly as nice as I am.

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