The before-and-after photos reveal how the work’s creator, the street artist known as Lushsux, responded to criticism of his depiction of the Democratic nominee for the US presidency, Hillary Clinton. When local officials objected to Lushsux’s portrayal of Clinton wearing a skimpy star-spangled bathing suit stuffed with dollar bills, the artist revised his parody by hiding Clinton’s buxom figure behind an all-concealing black burqa with the aggressive caption “If this Muslim woman offends u, u r a bigot, racist, sexist Islamophobe”.
Lushsux is known for his acerbic visual sendups of celebrities: earlier this summer the artist said that American musician Taylor Swift had threatened to sue him if he didn’t remove an unflattering depiction of her beside the cruel commemoration “In Loving Memory of …”. Lushsux thrives on insolence and outrage. By covering up his parody of Hillary Clinton with an ambiguous religious statement, Lushsux sought to stymie his politically-correct detractors. In effect he dared them to object to the blotting out of a symbol of female empowerment (Hillary) by what many contend to be a symbol of female disempowerment (the burqa).
The irreverent transformation of one of the most famous and powerful women in the world from raunchy caricature to socio-religious satire shows a mischievous sleight of hand that unexpectedly links Lushsux’s work to a pair of masterpieces from the 19th Century – provocative portraits that sparked debate about portrayals of the female form two centuries ago.
Two hundred years ago, the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya likewise, if rather more masterfully, wrong-footed critics by creating two versions of the same woman in identical poses: one nude and the other fully clothed. But anyone who has ever stood before Goya’s The Clothed Majaand The Naked Maja (which was confiscated by the Spanish Inquisition after it was discovered in a private room that Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy had created for nude paintings) can attest that it is the attired figure, rather than the contraband disrobed one, that is more titillating. Echoing Goya’s Majas, Lushsux’s crude caricatures of Clinton expose how the public gaze is still vexed by the female body, and remind us that, like beauty, shock is a quality we half perceive and half create.