Beyond the obvious distinction between racist provocations on one hand and pious homage on the other… one towering fact emerges: The life of the Prophet of Islam has now entered a global scene far beyond anyone's claim or control.
-Hamid Dabashi, in an article for Al JazeeraIt so happened that I began working on my print for A Real Fake (2015 Upper Northeast Portfolio Exchange) the week after several men claiming to be acting for Islam attacked the office of the magazine Charlie Hebdo in retaliation for the publication of cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammed. The fact that four cartoonists were murdered in this incident hit me quite hard, as I've been a commercial artist myself for a couple of decades. In doing that work, I've often marveled at the power some images have to disturb people. In commercial art in the U.S., this is most often expressed through what is not published, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness. (I'm thinking of a particular instance when I was not allowed to show a cow's udder in a children's textbook diagram titled "Where Does Milk Come From?")
• Who gets to claim or control an image?
• Are there images an artist has no right to make?
• Why do some images have so much charge?
• Can a westerner create a respectful depiction of Muhammed, or am I forbidden simply because I am not Muslim?
• If I do a reproduction of a historical image, am I the author of that image? Can I be held responsible for it?
• Does my attitude while creating the image matter or is it just about the final image?
• If I make a woodblock reproduction of a painting, is it real or a fake?
• What is a cartoon?
The title, "A Real Fake," seems perfect for an examination of questions about the power of image, the reality and unreality of two-dimensional art, reproduction, and authorship that come up in this context. As the brief states, "A work of art is never fixed or absolute: it doesn’t exist independently and once released, the work evolves and is often interpreted in different ways by the viewer. The brief also states, "the truest part of the work resides in the original act of creation." I'm not sure if I agree with that or not, but I'll be asking that question as I work.