This controversial image was one of six photographs entitled “The Untouchables” created by Cuban artist Erik Ravelo. In order to understand this image we must analyse its semiotics. Semiotics is the science of signs and its origins in linguistics and the study of meaning. The main theorists behind semiotics are Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Peirce.
The denotations are clear in Ravelo’s work through the various signifiers, he has staged his work on a white gallery wall with Transnational Corporation (TNC’s), McDonalds, iconic mascot Ronald McDonald facing towards the wall with his arms spanning outwards. Nailed to Ronald’s back is a young child deemed to be overweight, facing the audience with his arms too stretched outwards. However the child’s face has been blurred and is unrecognisable. The positioning of both the mascot and child create a religious allusion to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Although the image’s denotations are straightforward, Ravelo’s project provides connotations with the rights of children and their exploitation at the hands of adults. The children are crucified, in a sense, to each of their representative villains, their faces blurred, indicating a loss of identity. While the aggressors in the photos are against the wall in an almost criminal way, leaving their backs to the children indicates a kind of disregard. This specific image concerning obesity has generated some argument. The image shows an overweight child who has fallen victim to the marketing and operative schemes of the fast food industry. Many have claimed that when a child is overweight it is the parent’s fault (Children in Shadow, 2013). In my opinion, far too many people ignore the fact that parents are not the only ones raising their children. I think the image deserves its place in this overall depiction of childhood victimisation.
The image has many strengths and some weaknesses. Its primary strength is its global nature and ability to portray childhood victimisation in an international context. When we broaden the offenders to include not only those directly harming the children, but also to those who have turned their backs on their abuse, the image creates an even greater message. I find the piece extremely powerful and artful. Oftentimes we forget or fail to recognise child victims, whether they fall through the cracks of silence or are hidden by society or their offenders. Whether you agree with the messages conveyed in this image, it is undeniably shocking.
Unfortunately, the image has some elements that may alienate some of its viewers. Many have been quick to claim blasphemy as the children are depicted in a position of crucifixion, alluding to depictions of Jesus in his final human hours (Children in Shadow, 2013). Although people have disagreed with his controversial work, seen through the accusation of his work being child pornography and leading to his photographs eventual removal from Facebook (Eisinger, 2013). This clearly demonstrates how people interpret ‘signs’ based on their ‘ideologies’. The image is one artist’s depiction of childhood victimisation, and overall I believe he achieves his goal.
Children in Shadow. Cuban Artist, Erik Ravelo, Causes Controversy over Art Exposing PED. in the Vatican. Available from: https://childreninshadow.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/cuban-artist-causes-controversy-over-art-exposing-ped-in-the-vatican/ [September 14, 2013]
Eisinger, D 2013. Erik Ravelo’s Moving “Los Intocables” Project Gets Banned From Facebook. Available from: http://www.complex.com/style/2013/09/erik-ravelo-los-intocables [September 23, 2013]