Trigger warning: many people find the image under discussion offensive. In fact, just to soften the blow, I'm going to give you a translation of the image into words first.
MOST OUTRAGEOUS STATEMENT OF NOVEMBER 2013 IN FRANCE
Below the fold, you can find the image that says the exact same thing as the text above.
Anne-Sophie Leclere, member of the racist Front National has said that she would rather see black Justice Minister Christine Taubira in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government! And that's after she caricatured Taubira on her Facebook page by comparing her photograph to that of a monkey. Looks like the Front National's 'Deep Blue Assembly' really is a 'Deeply Racist Assembly' after all. Color us surprised.
There is the play on the Front National's slogan which denounces them as racist. There is the Front National's logo, attributing racist comparisons between Taubira and monkeys to the Front - even though it was Charb who redrew what they said, just as I repeated it above. Given the date, place and original audience of the drawing, it's reasonable to suppose that everyone who saw this image was capable of interpreting it accurately. All the same, the drawing caused controversy then, and even more over the last few days as Charlie Hebdo's work has come under wider, and heavily de-contextualised scrutiny.
Was Charb's cartoon such a massive failure at anti-racist art that it's fundamentally and unavoidably racist? Maybe a few comparisons can shed light on the matter.
- Is there a significant difference between my written assessment of an incident in French current affairs and Charb's drawn one?
- Is there a significant difference between Leclere's original imagery created to insult Taubira and Charb's drawing using the same imagery, created to mock Leclere and her party?
Perhaps Charb's iconography was off. Any visual artist understands the importance of centrality and scale. He should have known that the cartoon composed as it was would overwhelm his viewers and that it does, according to the laws of visual representation, make the racist depiction of Taubira rather than the racism of the Front National its central theme. He could have made the Taubira image subsidiary and emphasized the Front National attribution - perhaps by locating it within a thought bubble emanating from some assembled Front Nationalistes. Then again, being Charb, he might not have bothered to do so if he thought about it. After all it was 'clickbait'. So yeah, maybe insufficiently cautious and responsible (I know!) in wielding the iconography there, Charlie-Hebdo.
- If the reproduction of images linking Taubira with monkeys is inherently racist, regardless of whether its being done by a right-wing nationalist party or a left-wing critic of said party, isn't it still racist when it appears in a blog post dedicated to reviewing anti-racist art?
Update: I discuss this image a bit more in the context of a piece of 'anti-sexism' satire by Newsweek.