The novel happens as a consequence of, a reaction to, or a response to something else. History ascribes the discovery of the human blood circulation (1616) to William Harvey, while some say that it was DaVinci who in fact inspired Harvey’s discovery. Does the idea, then belong to the initiator or to the one who ultimately concludes it? Evolution of ideas is not one that happens in isolation. It has however, always been as conflicted as it is today.
Susan Meiselas’ point of protest, as she puts it, is the decontextualization of the original image – the image of the Molotov Man, one that became a symbol for the people of Nicaragua – and not necessarily the adaptation of her work by Joy. Considering the context, the artist here set out to tell a certain story and represent the state of events of some from a certain perspective. While Meiselas, sees her work as the story of another, Joy values the picture for its visual quality alone. The intent of the work in question defines a lot of how we look at it.
But is decontextualization really the problem? To those in Nicaragua that see the ‘Molotov Man’ as an important representation of their history, will always associate with the image – be it Susan Meiselas’ picture or Joy Garnett’s painting. To them, it is what the image stands for that is important. At what point does cultural specificity become relevant to the measurement of appropriation?
Was Susan Meiselas then wrong in asking for compensation? Would we be equally conflicted if a big corporation like Coca Cola decided to take Meiselas’ picture, give it their own spin and use it for their ads? Would the conflict remain if Coca Cola decided to use this ‘new’ picture for any of their CSR initiatives?