On newsstands across Spain, Michelle Obama can be seen gracing the August 2012 cover of Magazine Fuera de Serie, a lifestyle supplement to the newspaper Expansión.  She is seated on a chair draped in the American flag, partially nude in slave attire, complete with one of Aunt Jemima’s chicer headscarves.  Perhaps because it seems so obviously offensive, the mind attempts to rationalize; “Did this get lost in translation, or is this as racist as I think?”

As a black British woman, born and raised in London, I am acutely aware of other recent European racist train wrecks concerning the representation of black womanhood: the Dutch magazine Jackie “deconstructing” Rihanna’s style under the obscene headline “De Niggabitch” and Sweden’s minister of culture cutting into a cake depicting a caricature of a naked black woman to name but two.  Unfortunately, this Michelle Obama/Slave Woman mash-up sees Europe produce yet another epic fail in black female representation.

The magazine cover for the feature article “Michelle Tataranieta De Esclava, Dueña De América” (Michelle Granddaughter of a Slave, Lady of America) is the brainchild of white French/English fine artist Karine Percheron-Daniels.  Her mixed-media portrait superimposes Obama’s head onto the famous art-historical body of an African Guadeloupean female slave painted by French artist Marie-Guilhelmine Benoist in 1800. 

Percheron-Daniels’ portrait, First Lady, was not commissioned for the Spanish magazine cover, but is part of a larger series of “famous nudes” that includes Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II, Abraham Lincoln, and President Barack Obama.  In defense of her controversial series, the artist argues that she offers the viewer an “alternative unexpected reality” that allows us to “view famous individuals in a different way.”

But what does the composite of Obama’s face with the nude body of a nameless slave woman say about the way we have been invited to “view” the first lady and, by extension, black female communities of the diaspora?

According to Percheron-Daniels, her decision to transform Benoist’s black “negress” into Obama was “for obvious reasons” that she chose to leave unspecified. Based on such obvious (read: unchecked racist ideology) logic, Percheron-Daniels vacates  Obama, and fills in a 19th century European fantasy, which evokes a black female body that can be dominated and possessed, especially sexually.  To add insult to injury, Percheron-Daniels declares in blissful ignorance, “I’m sure Obama would love it, and I hope that someday she can see it.”

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. The portrait robs Obama of her identity, voice, and intellect, and visually shackles her to a politically passive subject, resigned to an assigned role as slave. I do not support the censorship of art. However, the mass reproduction of this nude portrait on the cover of a national newspaper supplement is a legitimate concern. Of all the stock images that might have been pulled for the cover, I find the editorial decision to portray  Obama as the embodiment of enslavement and colonization extremely troubling.  This is all the more perplexing given that this image severely undermines the cover story article, which acknowledges the political significance of Obama and champions her intuitive and intellectual prowess. So sad, then, that this image has in some way become a part of the Spanish popular imaginary.

We must be vigilant. The history of our image in Western art is deeply rooted in representations of our nude or semi-clothed bodies. These images – largely determined by stereotypes used to legitimize racial and gender oppression – speak to a painful history of exploitation and erotic objectification, which continues to manifest in multiple contexts across the black female diaspora.

202 Comments

  1. Alsace

    “This is all the more perplexing given that this image severely undermines the cover story article, which acknowledges the political significance of Obama and champions her intuitive and intellectual prowess.”

    I haven’t read the article, but how positive could it be if the cover headline reads, “Michelle se come a Obama” (literally, “Michelle Eats Obama”)? The phrase “comerse a alguien” means every innocent and not-so-innocent thought that instantly comes to mind. . . from eating a baby’s face to eating a man’s dick. But of course, covers always serve different purposes than articles.

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    • Kahli

      I’m sure it was meant as a racist slur… I’ve lived within the spanish culture without being of latina decent & my experience with Spainar have been mainly racist..

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    • Really? I was thinking about pursuing an opportunity to live in Madrid. Would you be willing to discuss your experience with me? I can be reached at @jupiterjulep24 on twitter. Thanks!

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    • parvenu

      This cover is in extremely poor taste and simply proves that the pure castillions have never recovered from the Moorish invasion, domination and integration.

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    • Same here in France and in Holland. They are all the same incest loving racists.

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    • La Morenita

      @Jules I’ve lived in Spain and Latin America as an African American and I did not have problems with racism in either place. I was always treated as any other person, and in fact, many Spaniards made positive comments about my complexion and “exotic” appearance. Additionally, I met my husband, who is Spanish, while living there. His family and friends accepted me without question and race was never an issue.

      However, I will say that there is a lot of ignorance regarding race, perhaps due to lack of diversity in Spain (although not an excuse in my opinion, we live in a diverse world so people should educate themselves). I think there is a big difference between racism and ignorance.

      That being said, the way race is addressed in Spanish and Latin cultures is VERY different from how it is addressed in the U.S. and it takes some getting used to. I felt uncomfortable at first with the attention given to my race and being called “morena” (essentially, a person of color) on a daily basis. However, I realized that this was not done maliciously and that for them, describing a person as morena is describing a natural part of them (their skin) and is akin to using other physical descriptors like rubia (blonde).

      These are just my experiences. The ignorance can be tiring and frustrating. But you shouldn’t miss out on an incredible experience because Spain is a beautiful country with a rich culture and fascinating history. Hope this helps.

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    • when i saw that – michelle se come a obama – i was like, omfg.

      having the obamas in the white house has really emboldened people to really show their true racist, low life qualities colors. it’s like people can’t restrain themselves.

      part of me appreciates their honesty, even when they are trying to hide behind their obvious issues. it’s good when the light reveals the lurking roaches.

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    • Gwen Myles

      Until 2008, we as African Americans knew we were living with racism, but after the Obama election, we found it was down right BLATANT! There is no excuse for every person who is against any sort of racism to say they didn’t know. We now need to re-elect President Obama and show the world what unity and We Can really means!

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    • Franklin Murphy

      I find this depiction somewhat offensive. If the objective were to highlight here slave ancestry and how blacks/African slave descendants have progressed and triumphed, then an illustration showing the realistic condition of her ancestor would have been much better. As stated above this seems more aimed at titillating the loins and mind rather than raising the intellect.

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    • So what are black people doing to fuel the ego of these fools? They go about calling themselves niggas and all that. How won’t these incest loving f**kers continue to insult our existence???

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    • Leonard Smalls

      Interesting comment; however, allow me to add the following:

      i) I am surprised that others are surprised;

      ii) how is this particular insult any different from their prior insults; and

      iii) what is the political function of illustrating the First Lady is such a manner.

      Leonard just chalks it up to the Spaniards still holding a grudge about their being ruled by Coloreds for well over 5 centuries. Be not mislead, let the Spaniards lament about their past as we Coloreds focus on improving our power differential.

      Cary on.

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    • South Texan

      The photo appears to be photo shopped, and yes it was a slap in the face and is purely racist.

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  2. Really?! I’d have to read the article to try and see if the picture and the context connected but still this seems a little extreme and offensive. I don’t think the wife of any world leader would be represented in this way though…things that make you go “hmmmm”….

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  3. Shepherd

    sometimes I can only shake my head and wonder what an earth is wrong with some of these white people. Either they are so stupid as to think this is appropriate, or worse, they know exactly what they are doing

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    • pe.riche.

      I bet they know exactly what they are doing. But, to provide a safety net for their own racism, they hide behind their outright offensive behavior by deeming it “art” or “self-expression”, thus the drivel above.

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    • Funny thing is…is that the original painting isn’t even the lady’s art. Its someone else’s. This is just all wrong.

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    • Ventina

      I think whites are just plain old VILE. That’s all just vile.

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    • Michael F

      Racist much

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    • You realize that your comment is also racist, which is to say hypocritical, correct?

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    • BOL

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    • @krista noone

      the problem is that most/too many white people would have no problems with this image.

      hard to argue you’re not racist when you perpetuate and allow racism to exist everywhere.

      bottomline – if white people had issues with the way things were set up, these issues wouldn’t exist. they do because white people see no problem with what they do and how they think.

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  4. QuestKnowledge

    I guess the writers of this article figured since rappers religiously demean and disrespect black women they could do it and it be passed as praise or some other ridiculous claim they’ll make in defense of this racist mess. I wonder would they put good ol’ Barbara Bush on the cover with her breast hanging out. I really want to understand the reasoning behind “beat the black woman up” figuratively speaking of course cause this really is getting out of hand.

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    • ChillyRoad

      So Sarah Bartman was being paraded around Europe in a cage because of Lil Wayne?

      Wake up and smell the coffee.

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    • Ashley GaGa

      No. But he definitely helps perpetuate the notion that the humiliation she received was not in vain.

      I smell the Folgers brewing. Yum!

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    • I don’t think bringing up rappers in this case was relevant. Michelle Obama has almost no relation to hip hop to the international world, and this magazine wasn’t about music, and this disrespect was not done in any fashion or form similar to those idiots in rap who do exploit WILLING women.

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    • QuestKnowledge

      Hey,

      To ignore the fact that music plays a role in perception would be ignorantly living in bliss. Michelle Obama specifically does not have any relation to the international world but you must remember it isn’t particularly about Michelle Obama but about her being a black woman. Music and magazines and other art forms coexist under the same realm, they’re juxtapose to each other. If I must remind you hip hop is world wide. In addition disrespect is disrespect, it doesn’t matter if it comes in the form of heinous words typed in an article or misogynistic anthems played on the radio.

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    • How come you can’t see the relevance of rappers in this case? I bet if I was a white rapper and i call u a nigga, u will probably fix me a grilled chicken.

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    • Or of a Jewish woman with her breast out. Why not the Queen of Spain?

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    • Because she doesn’t have a pretty titties

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    • The Queeen of England Elizabeth is naked in the series of paintings

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    • Queen Elisabeth ,the actual queen of England is portrayed nude in the series of painting done by this person. I ‘m just saying

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    • She is the Queen of England and probably was a willing participant. There is a total difference here. If Michelle O. was a WILLING participant then no it wouldn’t be racist but art.

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  5. The amount and frequency of disrespect and racist behavior that has been publicly aimed at the First Lady is way beyond what would ever be ‘allowed’ if the President and his family were white; and I’m tired of people acting like that isn’t so.

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    • I agree 110%! The media has definitely taken shots at the presidents and their family member’s of the past, hell even the children aren’t off limits (Chelsea Clinton’s teeth, questioning Mailia’s real age) but I think its been very extreme with the current First Family.

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    • I agree. I remember shots being fired at white first families in the past, but it is easy to see that it is gone beyond those levels since the Obama has been in office.

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    • @ david lister

      coming on a site like this to express your inane drivel is completely pointless. we do not fall for the idiocy of your lies or your deception. k?

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    • Blasè

      it seems to me that, without earning it, the Obama’s are he most disrespected “first” family in my lifetime.

      smh.

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    • Ventina

      True dat!! True dat!!

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    • Dave Lister

      How can that be since the mainstream media is in the Obama’s hip pocket? So which is it? Racist media or Obamamedia?

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    • NOT TRUE, The first family has been criticized by different groups every administration. Also, the cover is BS, it is not OK. Bad taste and should never have been printed. Its not racist, its just bad. I am sick of every time the first family is criticized or shown in bad lighting that it is automatically racist. That would mean every criticized first family was done so because of racism.

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