The South End

January 01, 2001

the official student newspaper of Wayne State University

obey giant has a posse?

The traffic light control box on the corner of Cass and Warren has a peculiar image pasted to both sides. An ugly, intimidating face with a pug nose and dead, glaring eyes stares back at onlookers. In big white letters on a red background reads the word, “Obey.”

The same image has appeared all over Wayne State and downtown this past month, from little stickers on one way signs to an Andy Warhol-like mural on an abandoned building at Alfred and Woodward. It may blend in with the advertising, but the image isn’t selling a movie, album or any sort of product.

So what’s the secret behind the mysterious black and white face?

It’s a stencil of Andre Roussimoff, better known to wrestling fans as obey giant.

Reactions to the deceased wrestler/actor’s picture on campus have been as varied as having never noticed a single sticker to seeing Andre at practically every corner around town.

“I see them, but I don’t quite understand them,” said Angie D’Annunzio, a pre-special ed junior.

The images, said Mary Harrison of C-Pop art gallery in Detroit, are a part of the post-pop movement, which began after the death of Warhol. They are an experiment in phenomenology, or “the process of letting things manifest themselves,” as described by a philosopher named Heidegger.

“It’s underground propaganda just for the sake of underground propaganda. Nothing is sold,” Harrison said.

The Andre reproduction was started by graphic designer and skateboard enthusiast Shepard Fairey over 10 years ago. What began as an inside joke in Southern California has since spread across the globe. Fairey noticed the strong reaction that the Andre stencil received and created the “Giant Posse,” a mock-revolutionary group with no real members and no real agenda.

Detroit was Fairey’s most recent stop on the Andre journey. It was highlighted by an exhibition that ran at C-Pop through May.

Fairey’s Andre artwork and similar propaganda is geared toward opening eyes and renewing a wonder and curiosity in the urban environment.

“The purpose of the artwork is to make people aware of their surroundings,” Harrison said. “The medium is the message.”

But not everyone is welcoming Fairey’s artistic expression. Evidence of stickers and posters ripped, removed or tagged is almost as regular as the undamaged posters themselves.

Officers on campus have generally accepted the images as a typical sight in an urban setting.

“It’s part of the urban experience. It comes with the territory,” WSU Police Sgt. David Scott said.

While not directly advocating the graffiti art, Scott said the police department didn’t feel troubled by the images.

“I’d rather see that than some of the tag art on the freeways,” Scott said.

On, Fairey said, “(the image of the) Giant is designed to provoke thought about the mechanics of the system we live in … not to destroy it.”

Fairey said he only pastes Andre on abandoned buildings and publicly-owned space, bypassing valuable or quality buildings.

“He wants to see the deterioration of his own work. It’s part of their ruin that is interesting to him,” Harrison said.

Whether it’s artistic genius or defacing property, pristine or deteriorating, Andre’s posse has left its mark on WSU and Detroit.

“It’s part of the life of the art,” Harrison said.

By Ron Meyer