“One picture is worth a thousand words” (Goodreads.com, 2017). This quotation indicates that ‘there are different meanings for one picture’. After seeing any picture, you might ask yourself, what is this picture telling me? “One picture is worth a thousand words”. That’s true, but only if we look and think about the underlying meaning. When I was searching on the internet for a media text to do my assignment I came across this picture. After seeing this picture, you could ask yourself two questions. First, what is this picture selling? Second, how can one picture like this say one thousand words? These questions came to my mind, as well as others when I saw this picture. There are many people trying to understand what’s happening now in America following the election of Donald Trump, trying to understand how one person can change the world. It also necessarily to understand the meaning of the fact that many American people went together to the airports to protest against Trump actions and reflect on what America means. What you can see in this picture is a Muslim woman covering her hair, this cover means ‘hijab’ in Arabic, using the United States of America flag, in red, white, and blue with a title ‘WE THE PEOPLE’. After searching I realized that this picture is more than just a picture and means a lot of things to many people especially to the artist who drew it, Shepard Fairey. To analyze this picture, I’m going to employ one of Roland Barthes’s ideas, ‘semiotic analysis,’ to explain what is the denotative and the connotative meaning in this picture, in other words, what we can see and understand from the ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ poster.
First of all, I’m going to talk about what the ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ campaign is. Shepard Fairey produced ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ posters to protest Trump. “The street artist Shepard Fairey has designed a series of posters in designed to protest President-elect Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated as President of the United States later today. Taking its name from the first line of the US constitution, the series We the People features portraits of Native Americans, African Americans, Muslims, and Latinas depicted in Fairey’s trademark style, with slogans such as “Women are Perfect” and “Defend Dignity”” (Amah-rose abrams, 2017). Fairey created these posters showing different types of Americans and what they stand for. What does ‘WE THE PEOPLE’, these three famous words in the preamble to the Constitution, mean nowadays and why is it important to people like Shepard Fairey? Applying the semiotic analysis on the picture, we can ask ourselves two questions. First, what can we see in the picture? Second, so what? What it is important and what are the ideological meanings.
Semiotic analysis “distinguishes between two levels of meaning: the denotative and the connotative” (Gasher, Skinner, Lorimer, 2016). Denotative meaning refers to obvious signs. Using this method to describe the picture, we can see a beautiful, free, and powerful woman, and she is not looking threatening or afraid with her hijab we can see that she is a Muslim woman and confidence with the United States of America flag. On another hand, connotative meaning refers to less obvious or hidden meanings that may be drawn, using this method is more complicated. We can think about, how Muslim Americans think about America? And what is it mean to be an American? This message means we need to understand that Muslim women or Muslims, in general, are part of America since many years and no one can just say that we don’t want them in America anymore even the American president Donald Trump. Like other religions, Islam part of the American identity, and we need to put the humanity first regardless skin color, languages, and religions. This picture selling peace and acceptance in the American society toward Muslim women or Islam in general, Also this picture shows the patriotism of this Muslim American girl and how she loves her country, loves the United States of America.
One of the main questions about this picture why is it exist now? Diversity is always one of the key elements of the American society, but because of the executive order that Trump signed, hate toward Muslims is growing and it’s his fault, also Trump mainstreaming underlying messages about Muslims that gives American, semiotic meaning about Islam. Muslim ban and other issues that is happening now in America is controversial and makes people think about the nature of Muslim faith. Who did this poster is selling the idea of ‘we are one’, we the people means we are one soul, one community, and one country. The manifest meaning is clear for a lot of people, but the underlying meaning contains many ideas such as: freedom of Muslims in America, Islam one of the main social identity in America, and I’m not a terrorist.
We the people, in just one sentence we can analyze the picture on many levels, that this picture is a reflection of the American society and how they accept Muslims as a part of their culture and identity. It’s amplifying the voice of the people who stand with Muslims, Who stand against racism, it’s a clear message to Donald Trump and the world that there is no difference among Americans and no place for racism in America. As a conclusion what they are trying to say your skin color, language and religion doesn’t matter we are all Americans.
Albert Einstein. (2017). Goodreads.com. Retrieved 19 February, 2017, from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/353095-one-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words
Amah-rose abrams. (2017). Artnet News. Retrieved 19 February, 2017, from https://news.artnet.com/art-world/shepard-fairey-releases-we-the-people-series-824468
Gasher Mike, Skinner David, Lorimer Rowland. (2016). Mass Communication in Canada. (8th Ed.). Ontario: Pearson.
Figure 1. WE THE PEOPLE ART AVAIL. TO DOWNLOAD FOR FREE! [Digital image]. (2017, January 16). Retrieved February 19, 2017, from https://obeygiant.com/people-art-avail-download-free/
Figure 2. ‘We the People’ Public Art Series Plans to Infiltrate the Inauguration [Digital image]. (2017, January 18) Retrieved February 19, 2017, from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/we-people-public-art-series-plans-infiltrate-inauguration-n708396