US presidential elections – the street art wars

By Martin Smith | 24 February 2016
Vote Bernie Sanders

Vote Bernie Sanders

One of the most endearing images of the 2008 US presidential election was the poster of Obama with the word “hope”, “change” or “progress” below. They were created by the street artist Shepard Fairey. Over 300,000 posters were produced during the presidential campaign.

The Obama posters embodied the hope and desire for real change many Americans desired but they also created a small backlash by right wing artists opposed to Obama. Imitation posters popped up with with the words “hype”, “nope” and “dope” below Obama’s head.

I believe this was the first time street artists played a part in the presidential propaganda campaign. And even the most rightwing reactionary artist would concede that Shepard Fairey won the duel.

Fast forward to 2016 and once again the US is in the middle of a presidential selection contest – and once again street artists are taking sides. Not only are street artists backing the Republican and Democratic candidates at war, but there are also artistic battles between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters.

These artists use posters, stickers and advertising space hacking techniques to get their messages across.

One obvious difference between the street art produced during the 2008 presidential election and today is that instead of just subverting Fairey’s images Republican street artists are using their work to back the Republican cause.

Some of these artists make Donald Trump look like a liberal – their political artwork uses homophobia, gross sexism and racism to hit out at Clinton and Sanders.

Ad Space Hack (artist unknown)

Ad space hack (artist unknown)

UNSAVORYAGENTS is a Republican artist based in Los Angeles. Its website mission statement says:

Art does not belong to the Left-Wing… Our aim is to educate the Right on the importance of art, propaganda and the methods by which to communicate with the youth through their culture. I believe the Right has a great message, sadly the only people telling it are those on the Left and they do a damn fine job making us look like ass holes and what do Republicans do about it, NOT A DAMN THING!!! Fuck it! I guess it’s just going to have to be me, I thought. My aim as an artist is to be as dirty, ground level, and mean as any Liberal artist out there, more so if I can. Use their tactics, their methods, appeal to their audience, the young, urban , street urchins with a message they never hear in a style they own. My name is SABO, I’m an UNSAVORYAGENT.

Sabo is a street artist at night and a pornographer by day. He has produced a number of hard hitting works including a fake car parking ticket, which he has put onto thousands of cars. It features a picture of Donald Trump and a statement denounce crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in so-called “sanctuary cities”, among them San Francisco. He has also produced a poster backing the Republican Ted Cruz.

Unofficial Ted Cruz poster, produced by Sabo

Unofficial Ted Cruz poster, produced by Sabo

The Republican artists’ movement is nasty, negative, devoid of hope and lacks originality. Even viewed purely as art it is poor.

Racist unofficial ad space hack by UNSAVORYAGENTS collective

Racist unofficial ad space hack by UNSAVORYAGENTS collective

Of course some of the anti-Republican street art is crude. But much of it is both good art and even better propaganda that hits home hard. There are humorous stencils and stickers mocking Trump, and street artist Hanksy – who can be best described as a kind of US Banksy – has painted a wonderful mural in New York City’s Lower East Side of Trump as a turd.

Anti Trump street painting by Hanksy (pic credit Artists for Bernie)

Anti-Trump street painting by Hanksy (pic credit Artists for Bernie)

Trump trumped in Atlanta (pic credit @11alivenews

Trump trumped in Atlanta. Pic credit: @11alivenews

It’s not all anti-Republican work. Hillary Clinton supporters have also taken to the streets with their spray cans and ad hacks.

chalk painting in support of Hillary Clinton by Hani Shihada

chalk painting in support of Hillary Clinton by Hani Shihada

Hillary Clinton as Rosie the Riveter - artist unknown (pic credit Jim Dalrympie II)

Hillary Clinton as Rosie the Riveter – artist unknown (pic credit Jim Dalrympie II)

The fact is the cream of the US street art movement has backed Bernie Sanders. Unlike the street art connected to Obama, which was just one-word slogans, much of the art work surrounding Sanders tackles corporate greed, anti-capitalist themes and support for migrants.

Artist unknown

Artist unknown

Bernie Sanders sticker

Bernie Sanders sticker. Pic credit: Dusty Rebel

Pic credit: makepictures on Deviantart

Artwork by Dan Buller. Pic credit: makepictures on Deviantart

Finally who is Shepard Fairey backing?

Fairey told Esquire magazine last year that Obama had not lived up to his expectations. However a few weeks ago he came out in support of Bernie Sanders. He said:

I’m supporting Bernie Sanders because I want to push principles, not personalities…

Fairey has agreed to produce art supporting Sanders – his first piece of work is shown below.

Shepard Fairey's first painting for the Bernie Sanders campaign

Shepard Fairey’s first painting for the Bernie Sanders campaign



  1. James Maddock said:

    Another great read
    Keep up the terrific work

    24 February 2016 at 7:14pm
  2. Martin Smith said:

    Thanks James, if you see any interesting election street art please send to me.

    25 February 2016 at 12:43am
  3. tim said:

    Excellent piece!!!

    26 February 2016 at 2:37pm

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