Inside the Collection

‘Be the Change’ Inauguration Poster

Be the Change Obama poster by Shepard Fairey
Designed by Shepard Fairey. Collection, Powerhouse Museum

In April, I made a visit to the Design Museum in London to see the 2009 Brit Insurance Design Awards. You see, the winning design was Shepard Fairey’s ‘Progress’ poster which became the driving force behind the 2008 Barack Obama Presidential Election campaign, and shortly before leaving Sydney, I had assisted my colleague Anne-Marie Van de Ven on the acquisition documentation for Fairey’s ‘Be the Change’ Inauguration poster for our collection.

Both posters sit at opposite ends of the campaign spectrum. The winning ‘Progress’ poster was the very first ‘unofficial’ design produced by Fairey, before the official Obama campaign team brought him on board, while the Inauguration poster obviously signifies the successful end. Our poster, which is a silkscreen print on paper, was one of ten thousand produced and sold online to raise revenue for the Obama political party. Apart from representing the milestone that was the first African-American President to be elected in US history, Fairey’s image of Obama is also powerful, patriotic and what’s more – iconic. It is simple, yet evokes a very strong message, and true to Fairey’s form, became pervasive throughout much of American culture and the international media.

At a Museum like the Powerhouse, curators play an important role in collecting for the future. This means we need to keep abreast of trends and current affairs, including upcoming designers and design products. We purchased this poster online through the Inaugural Collectibles store, like 9,999 other people could, on the recommendation of Christopher Snelling, the Manager of the Powerhouse Discovery Centre at Castle Hill, who had personally ordered a copy of the poster online for himself. Interestingly, Christopher also has a history with Barack “Barry” Obama, having attended high school with him in Hawaii during the 1970s!

Buying online is not an uncommon phenomenon for Museums now. Powerhouse curators also acquire objects through purchases on EBay, but not without first determining the object’s provenance, condition and authenticity.

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