Friday, October 10, 2008

Michelle Obama's Bust: Your Call

Interesting post over at pushback.

Entertainment Wise reports that sculptor Daniel Edwards has debuted an African-inspired bust of Michelle Obama. The sculpture is adorned with Barack Obama-logo earrings and an American flag emblazoned across her breasts (yes, people, there are boobs):

The controversial topless bust of Barack Obama’s wife Michelle Obama was unveiled to the public in New York yesterday.

“The goal is to create a look for Michelle Obama that eliminates excessive comparisons to Jackie Kennedy.”

As with anything else, there are two sides to this. On one hand, I can see how someone would think that this rendering of Obama is endearing and celebratory. I have to say that her face in this sculpture does look proud and regal… and I say that as someone who is semi-obsessed with the famed bust of Queen Nefertiti.

But on the other hand, I worry that this is just another situation where the black female body is being sexualized and made to be overly exotic.

My comments are, at first, in support of the piece:
Good post Loryn. African American women - and all women of African descent in the diaspora - have a particularly long and complicated history of dealing with the hyper-sexualization, commoditization, caricature, and objectification of our bodies. In particular, this piece and the exaggeration of Michelle’s chest reminds me of Sara Baartman. But the artist’s intent makes me give him the benefit of the doubt. It is an extreme depiction -breasts, head adornment, earrings and all - of her blackness. Frankly, I appreciate the resistance to depicting her as the black Jackie O. I know that the comparisons are intended as compliments. But somewhere in there is also the need for America to quickly label a beautiful, classy, clearly African American woman with distinctly African features as a black someone else – validating her unique beauty only by equating it with the icon of European aesthetics…As if the highest honor for her to attain is to look like the mainstream, white cultural ideal. She is black, and while the colorless rhetoric of that campaign would have us ignore that and pat ourselves on the back for not overtly acknowledging that, this piece does a wonderful job of claiming the black identity of this women that is so well respected. The black community has always had a particular investment in “claiming” any celebrity who’s ethnicity or race is in question (i.e. Lena Horne, Halle Berry, Tiger Woods, etc.) Now, I don’t at all think that the breasts are necessary to convey that point, but looking at the craftsmanship and the noble intent of the sculptor, this bust is at its core just a beautiful piece of art. Still, I understand how the society in which we live has made it difficult for it to be seen as that and only that.

But upon googling the artist, seeing his work and the fact that, frankly, he wasn't African American sang a slightly different tune:

Totally forgot who Daniel Edwards is! He’s the guy that did the Britney Spears giving birth on a bearskin rug and Paris Hilton dead and naked holding a dog and a cell phone and Sen. Hillary Clinton in a bra…. hmm…considering a large part of my argument was based on artist intent, let me just give the caveat that IF his intent was other than what I stated above, than he’s an annoying little sensationalistic, fame hungry artist that feeds off of objectifying the bodies of celebrities…and he could be preying off of the idealistic, earnest, desire of suckers like me to justify his work with my above argument.

That's the thing about art - its always open for interpretation.

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