The image appears on the August 2012 cover of Spanish magazine, Fuera de Serie. A number of sites have called the cover inappropriate because it depicts the First Lady in imagery closely associated with slavery.
The painting used as the basis for this cover does depict a former French slave, but the image is widely regarded as feminist and racially progressive.
French artist Marie-Guillemine Benoist completed the “Portrait d’une négresse” (below) by the year 1800 — six years after the abolition of slavery in France (and two years before it was partially reinstated by Napoleon Bonaparte). Critics generally regard the painting as a show of support for feminism and black rights.
Art historian James Smalls writes that “the artist responded to early nineteenth-century French racialism and the less-than-desirable treatment of women,” concluding that “her painting may be seen as a voice of protest, however small, in the discourse over human bondage.”
The image has been notably repurposed before. Shoe designer Christian Louboutin reimagined it along with a number of other historical paintings for a 2011 ad campaign.
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