Nauseating, disturbing, and very, very NSFW are just some of the words that come to mind when one browses through Alison Jackson’s recently published book of spoof photos of celebrities, many of which center on a fake Donald Trump engaging in lewd activities. The British artist — whose images feature actors she hires and styles to look like famous people — had to publish Private herself, as the publishers she approached feared legal retaliation from Trump’s administration. The act was a means of protesting the chilling effects of a Trump presidency and exercising her freedom of speech as an artist.
“I self-published as a last resort,” Jackson told Hyperallergic. “I am not scared. I am an artist — I don’t owe anything to anyone, and I am not owned by anyone.”
Jackson did not share the names of the publishers that were unwilling to print her photographs, but said the mock pictures of Trump were specifically why “they did not want to take that risk.” Her lawyers, too, warned her against publishing the series, which she says is meant to raise questions about how media imagery shapes our understanding of public figures. The paparazzi-style pictures include scenes of a Trump figure posing chummily with members of the Ku Klux Klan and having sex with Miss Universe contestants (although satire, the latter brings to mind the wild scenes described in the unverified report of Trump’s overseas escapades that was leaked by BuzzFeed). Jackson also roasts the Clintons and Obama, although these are much tamer: in one, Hillary doodles a Hitler mustache on a magazine cover of Trump, while in another, Barack sneaks a satisfying drag of a cigarette (for shame!).
Some of the images have appeared online in publications such as Vanity Fair and the Guardian, which posted — to Jackson’s surprise — the two images that drew the most legal concern: one of the KKK and another showing Trump with a rifle, his nearby targets decorated with a sombrero and a Hillary Clinton mask. HG Contemporary also hosted a six-day exhibition of 17 of the photographs in October, although “curation was very careful, and some of the tougher images were omitted,” Jackson said.
That same month, Jackson visited Trump Tower dressed as the then–presidential nominee, joined by hundreds of women wielding protest signs. But she considers the decision to self-publish these photographs her riskiest action, placing her in the most legally precarious position she’s been in. It recalls the situation faced by artist Illma Gore last year, when she received threats from someone she believed was part of Trump’s legal team over her infamous micropenis drawing. Alas, as the President’s painful press conferences suggest, we will likely have to increasingly fight for the right to free speech.
“The publishing of my own book allowed me to deliver my message without limitations, above political and economical calculations,” Jackson told Hyperallergic. “An artist must be able to decipher his/her view of the surroundings to inspire the public to become brave participants in the world and not just mere spectators, no matter what the risks might be.”