Obama paintings: offensive or not?

Paintings depicting President Obama as a savior at a downtown shop accomplished more than the artist intended.

When I walked into Last Drop Coffeehouse about two weeks ago, I saw a painting with the words “Go-Bama! Handle Hitler like a grown-ass man!” Below the statement was the face of a one-dimensional Obama waving oversized brown fists at Hitler.

Another painting showed the president kneeling before a couple lying in bed, sprinkling blue teardrops toward them. The painted caption read: “Barack uses his magic tears to give men more staying power!”
Other paintings had similar themes: in one he is taking Christ off the cross, in another he is rescuing unicorns from Abu Ghraib.

While I thought nothing of it – it was just another white art school kid trying to be rebellious and funny – I overheard a black man tell an employee he found the paintings very offensive.

Controversial paintings in the Last Drop Coffeehouse have offended some patrons of the Center City shop (Julia Wilkinson/TTN).

The man, Gregory Walker, asked me if I was offended by the paintings. I was afraid to say that I wasn’t sure but was intrigued by why he was.

Walker cares about people. He is a tenants’ rights organizer and chairman for the Brothers Network, a member of the board of directors for the Washington Square West Civic Association and a member of the Liberty City Democratic Club.

He said while he found the paintings offensive, it was the fact they were in a public space that really bothered him. The display suggested to Walker that the coffee shop is promoting racism and anti-Semitism.

Nam Nguyen, owner of the Last Drop for 14 years, said he could see why people would be offended, but he has no intentions of taking the artwork down.

Walker said he would no longer support the coffee shop until the artwork is removed.

The artist who created the paintings, Jayson Musson, is no stranger to controversy. In a blog post from February 2007, Musson mused that he didn’t know how long his writing privileges will last for his now defunct column in Philadelphia Weekly, “Black Like Me.”

Musson explained to me that the paintings were a lighthearted way to poke fun at the Obama “mania,” and he found it comical that people are acting like the new president is a messiah instead of a person.
In regard to Walker taking offense to the paintings, Musson said it might have had something to do with the manner in which Obama was painted.

“Maybe he thinks my paintings hearken back to some type of racist caricature of black people, which is definitely not the case,” Musson wrote in an e-mail. “Every figure I painted in this series are painted in the same manner, so I don’t know how that could bother him.”

Walker took action by sending out a mass e-mail about the paintings, and so far, he is pleased with the results.

“As a result of our e-mail blast and the response the coffee shop received, the artist has posted a description stating the art is not intentionally offensive,” Walker said. “[Musson] now recognizes the content is unclear and can have many interpretations.”

Musson’s paintings are still hanging at the Last Drop Coffeehouse, located at 1300 Pine St.

Julia Wilkinson can be reached at julia.wilkinson@temple.edu.


  1. It just sounds like a form of political cartoons to me. I suppose the fact that a black artist painted them sits better with folks than if a white artist had painted them. If the restaurant owner feels it is more important to support the artist rather than the customers, that’s his decision. These freedoms are what America is all about, like it or not. The style, BTW, seems a bit primitive. The point is well-made that we all have great expectations of our new president. I supported and voted for him, and he could well be in over his head. But he has been able to stay above the fray! : ) BTW, I thought the recent controversial “chimp” cartoon was very tasteless, vulgar, racist and frankly stupid…as it not funny!

  2. Two words: Offensive and horrific. “Go-bama! Handle HItler like a grown-ass man”. What is that about? Do these people even have the faintest idea of who Hitler was and the horrible things he did in Europe and NOrthern Africa? What does mentioning Hitler have to do with Obama? Where is the relationship?

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