Society

Barack Obama inspires art and fashion in Paris and Barcelona

Article published on Nov. 3, 2008
Article published on Nov. 3, 2008
Whether it's his face in gravel viewed from the air, or his face in sequins viewed from the catwalk, Cuban artist Jorge Rodríguez Gerada and French Moroccan designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac are inspired by the democratic presidential candidate. Cross-portraits

The Obama face - from Cuba to Barcelona, via Google Earth

(Image: JRG official website, artjammer.com/expectation)At the Fórum de Barcelona, Jorge Rodríguez Gerada is working against the clock to finish his latest painting. It has to be ready by 3 November, the eve of the US elections. The artist, who lives between New York and Barcelona, is reproducing the face of democratic candidate Barack Obama with 500 tons of gravel covering 10, 000 square metres by the beach. But the rain is holding his team of wellies and raincoat-kitted volunteers back. With two days to go, mud has flooded the esplanade.

Sand and gravel designs are often used during religious and meditative ceremonies in various cultures. The 42-year-old Santa Clara-born New Yorker has become a shaman on a bigger scale in wanting to convey the metaphor of what Obama represents. ‘I want to provoke people to think about the expectation that the figure of Obama has created in a large part of the world,’ he explains. His work itself is entitled Expectation, like the presidential candidate has awakened in many citizens. ‘He can make all the changes he wants to improve the country, but it won’t be easy,’ Rodríguez argues. He wants to raise awareness of the fact that the world is 'really in a bad state if we are looking for heroes. Change is obviously necessary.’

(Image: JRG official website, artjammer.com/expectation)

Obama could be a breath of fresh air from the political power that has established itself in the US over the last eight years. Rodríguez is clear about why he decided to beam this message from Europe: ‘The world is getting smaller. We are all in the same boat. What happens in the US affects the outside world, as we have seen with the subprime mortgages effectively hitting the global economy.’ Contrary to what some might think, Expectation is neither funded by a democrat party nor any other kind of organisation. The initial projected cost was some 15, 000 euros. In the end, the artist and his colleagues have only managed to collect 450 euros, plus the 6, 000 that he himself contributed from his own pocket. ‘We’re in a crisis after all,’ he jokes. 

What happens in the US affects the outside world. We are all in the same boat

Like many of his creations, this will be another ephemeral work. After a few days at the Fórum, aerial photos will be beamed onto Google Earth so that the image gracing the catalan capital from the air can live forever in cyberspace. Rodríguez will be heading to Oporto and Luxembourg after this, and plans to do something similar with an unknown person next. ‘Normal people are what’s really important,’ he concludes.

The Obama dress - from India to Paris, via the UK and Washington

(Image: iqons/ Flickr)It was more chaotic at the Carrousel de Louvre in Paris on 4 October. Barack Obama's face stole the limelight from a British comedian hijacking Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s spring/ summer fashion week show. A mass of 500, 000 sequins, which make up an image of Obama’s face on the front of the silk satin dress, represent the mass of people inspired by him, according to the French Moroccan designer. The back of the dress recreates Martin Luther King’s political manifesto; I have a dream is emblazoned in the form of a ‘pure university poster’, whilst a badge from Obama’s university adorns the right shoulder of the dress. ‘Just to remember his education and formation,’ the 59-year-old insists, from his boutique in the centre of the French capital. The dress is very voter friendly: a ‘yes’ glove covers the right hand - ‘obviously,’ adds the designer known as JC/DC - whilst a ‘no’ glove sits on the left.

Castelbajac is 'impressed' by Obama's ‘charisma, concern for change and for young people'

The ‘one-of-a-kind’ dress is not for sale (though production price would be around 3, 000 euros), and came about as a self-declared ‘manifesto’ of the designer's feelings. ‘Impressed’ by the democratic candidate’s ‘charisma, concern for change and for young people,’ it was created in ten days in a flurry of excitement in India. The ‘making-of’ recalls the 1997 robe Castelbajac designed for pope John Paul II for a visit to Paris, which was embroidered by a Muslim lady. ‘It showed the very real faith surrounded by that gentleman,’ he recalls. With this political appointment over a decade on, Castelbajac denies drawing publicity on himself. ‘I worked voluntarily for the pope. I’m happy this dress can produce my face as my convictions towards this man today.' Besides, not many in the fashion industry acted in response to the elections. ‘In France, people rarely take positions. You are linked to very consensual attitudes. But what you say does contribute to the world. Today, fashion is more than just marketing and futility.’

The dress may have garnered ovations on the catwalk, but Castelbajac received angry letters from southern Texas, amidst other places. He won’t be ‘replying to stupidity,’ he shrugs. ‘I want to see that pure yellow on Madame Obama,' he purs. The potential first lady should be receiving the dress, but not before American singer Katie Perry might wear it at the MTV music awards in Liverpool on 6 November. ‘I’d be very happy to see a young artist wear it,’ Castelbajac smiles. He’ll be avoiding the bars in Paris for the 4 November elections, and declares there is 'no chance' that Obama won't win.