Earlier this week I saw a compelling image. A Barack Obama/Fela Kuti mash-up t-shirt. It spoke to me for many different reasons, and I thought what could possibly be more appropriate to feature on the tails of Obama’s fantastic victory? We have a new president-elect today, and Barack Obama has made history! America has it’s first Black President. I caught up with the artist who created this image, Dwayne Rodgers, and spoke with him about his inspirations.
OKP: Who are you? What do you do?
DRR: World traveler, streetwalker, and man about town. I am a photographer mainly, but I like branching into whatever medium makes my point best.
OKP: What was your inspiration for this image?
DRR: This image was inspired by so many things. The first level inspiration is that Fela Kuti, a favorite of mine, called himself the black president. So the mash up of Obama and Fela seemed obvious to me and I was surprised that I had not seen anyone do it. Two very different black men manifesting their power in one image.
Another inspiration was to add my two cents to the pot of Obama images. I think it is great that he has been mixed and remixed on the pop art level. I suspect he is going to turn what might have been 15 minutes of faddish fame into very effective presidency. It’s one of the few times that celebrity, mass consumerism and the cult of personality has been put to great use. I wanted to see what my perspective as a man/black man/artist looking at another man/black man about to become President of the U.S. could add to the mix. I wanted to create a grassroots-looking image that was layered in a complicated way. Fela, Obama, Mexico ’68, Ali, Messiah, Revolution. It’s all there.
OKP: Did you intend for your image to have an impact on the political sphere? Were you trying to sway voters in any way?
DRR: I intended to scare white people into not voting for O. I’m actually a Repubican, yes Repubican operative. No really though…my ego is not that big. Wasn’t trying to sway anyone really. Just wanted to get myself used to hearing the expression. I think it sounds great. The word black has been used to describe a whole lot of dicey shit. Now it can be used to describe the President. And I think we should be able to say it without it sounding off-putting. BLACK PRESIDENT. There was no hesitation to call Kennedy an Irish Catholic. Now that the man is in office, Black people can be openly proud of the fact that on top of being a remarkable human being, he is also Black. (Bi-racial really, but we’ll save talk about those racial labels for another interview.) Before the election I think there was the feeling that if we don’t talk about it too much we won’t blow his cover and lose the election. There was a strange version of “passing” going on, and understandably so.
OKP: How deeply do you feel race has impacted this particular political race?
DRR: The losers, the yesterday people, whose names I shall not speak lest they raise their ugly heads again, definitely pulled out every trick in the book in terms of fear mongering. My personal favorite was the girl with the backwards B carved on her cheek by the 6′ 4″ hulk of black man. The best detail about the fictional attacker is that he was wearing “shiny shoes”. Yes race played a part, but not the the role it was “supposed” to play since the gremlin and the pit bullette lost and are probably sticking pins in voodou dolls of each other, or maybeof themselves. Yes M….n got voted in…right into retirement.
OKP: Fela Kuti was not only an amazing musician, but quite a political revolutionary. Do you think Obama is as revolutionary (or as radical) as Fela was in his politics?
DRR: In context yes I do think Obama is as revolutionary as Fela. Obama applied an unprecedented focus and grace to create a movement around giving power back to the people. The time of the one wolf is over to quote a Hopi prophecy. Creating a movement towards the (re) recognition that America at it’s best is a beautiful “experiment”, the best mixed tape out. It is revolutionary that Obama upped the level of political dialogue just by stepping on stage. Invisible man got the whole world watchin to quote Mos.
OKP: I noticed that your image is simply white, black and red. Is there any particular significance to this color scheme?
DRR: That’s a good question. I don’t want to explain the image away though. Color has so many associations to so many different people. I want the associations to play in people’s heads.
OKP: What other influences inspired you, and this image?
DRR: I was inspired to merchandise the image by the incredible work of the dude from Obey. The paradigm is hot. Do cool work, get cool people to buy it and give money to cool and progressive political causes. I was inspired by everybody who put their creative forces to work for the cause…. One day I just thought it would be cool to create a victory image of Obama that wasn’t like the Obama we’ve seen before. Not smiling, but pretty serious and impressive looking andready to take shit over. We all know that to lead us out of the mess we are in, the president, the black president is going to have to dig deep. Fuck rolling up his sleeves, he is going to have to take off his shirt and go in! I think we got his back though….I know I do. We are the ones we have been waiting for. Isn’t that the line?
I want a million people, black, white, purple, blue to wear this shirt to the inauguration and raise their fists to the sky simultaneously. Ready to take over…..