Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
Street artist and controversial graphic designer Shepard Fairey's imagery is being used by Wall Street protesters: using a palate of red, black and beige, the “Hope” artist's designs have been used for an invitation to the Occupation Party, a protest planned in Times Square on Saturday.
The invitation depicts a lone figure standing at an angle, with an Afro hairstyle and eyes cast upward. At first glance, the design is reminiscent of images from the Black Power movement, which are images Fairey has worked with in the past.
Fairey garnered mainstream fame — and a legal challenge from the Associated Press — with his iconic 2008 poster of then-candidate Barack Obama with the word “Hope” emblazoned in all capital letters across the bottom of the image. That design was replicated on posters, t-shirts and became a viral part of the campaign’s iconography.
While the protests near Wall Street have garnered a reputation for not having a single leader or spokesperson, the involvement of a bold-faced named like Shepard Fairey and the news he was designing graphics for the Occupation Party wowed even an art insider like Hrag Vartanian, editor of art blog Hyperallergic.
“That makes me very happy to hear,” he said, crediting Fairey for his long involvement in politics in spite of some of the controversy surrounding his work. “I think it’s something that speaks to a generation of people.”
Looking at the Fairey’s latest Occupation Party image, Vartanin said it looked to him like Angela Davis.
“I think it’s really great that it’s an upward looking positive image, as well as it tries to tie together a little bit of the radicalism of the 60’s with today,” he said.
The art blog Hyperallergic started taking note of the imagery coming out of the Occupy Wall Street protests when one of their writers tweeted a photo of a “sea of signs” near Zuccotti Park, the demonstrators’ makeshift headquarters.
From then on, Vartanian said he and his staff have paid special attention to how people are using art and social media to communicate about this movement.
“Because it was not necessarily through the mainstream media but often through tweets, photos on Tumblr,” Vartanian said.
His site was one of the first to cover the daily work of the movement’s Art and Culture committee, one of many communal organizing groups that meets at Zuccotti Park.
While employing familiar symbolism may not land Fairey’s most recent design in a museum, it does help convey a message.
Jean Robertson, professor of Art History at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis and author of Themes of Contemporary Visual Art: Visual after 1980, said the design may also conjure imagery from other protest movements in Europe and the Soviet Union, with its use of the color red and reliance on bold black writing.
“There’s something almost old fashioned about this that seems like it’s trying to leap back through the whole 20th century of and all the protest movements that use graphic style like this,” Robertson said.
It remains unclear what Fairey’s inspiration was. He was not available for comment.
But on his company’s website, Fairey has said that his work aims to “reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment.”
Clarification: Speaking on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday, Fairey said he did not design the invitation for the Occupy Wall Street protesters. But he confirmed his images were used by designers affiliated with the movement and that he supports the fair use of his work and the movement itself.