One of Yours: A Visual Study of Populist Aesthetics

By Daniel Mayrit

“One of yours: a visual study of populist aesthetics” is a multidisciplinary project that mainly uses photographic images and digital manipulations aiming to analyse, question and highlight the artificiality of the visual tactics used by populist movements in their communicative and visual strategy. The year 2020 in general and the defeat of Donald Trump at the latest American Election could mean the beginning of the end of populism, the phenomenon that without a doubt has become the biggest political challenge the world has faced in recent years. During the last decade or so, countless studies investigating the topic have gained increased attention in the academic field. The phenomenon has also proliferated as a subject for TV shows and films such as House of Cards, Brexit: The Uncivil War or The Politician. However, it is striking the void that exists within the visual arts in regard to a cultural, artistic and semiotic study of the visual strategies used by populist parties and candidates. This project intends to fill that gap and provide a critical perspective on populism from the field of photography and visual arts. The project makes use of the very same techniques that populism uses in its rhetoric and its images, but in an exacerbated and ironic way so that it exposes and makes evident its artificiality. The goal is not only to discredit and mock the visual means and clichés of populism but to provide viewers with tools for reflection in order to recognize and protect themselves against their still current manipulative mechanisms: 

- The artificial construction of the “people” as a vague political subject. 

- A constant appeal to the emotional aspects of politics and an overload of epic, passions, hyperboles and sentimentality. 

- A tendency to hyper-leadership, incarnated in the figure of a charismatic leader, who embodies in a messianic way the feelings and desires of that artificial “people”. 

- An exuberant media strategy, making use of politically incorrect vocabulary and an overtly alpha-male display. 

The author deploys a multidisciplinary method in order to complete a body of work composed of photographs, digital manipulations and video footage. In order to achieve his goal, Mayrit takes a performative approach as he, himself, plays the role of a fictional populist candidate around which he creates whole imagery made up of digital manipulations of previously existing images from real populist leaders as well as carefully staged tableaux. Making use of different visual clichés loaded with irony Mayrit becomes, in a way, the charismatic leader who embodies the populist strategy and discourse in his own image. This work ultimately intends to put into question and scrutiny the visual language deployed by populist leaders in recent years, thus unveiling its artificiality and manipulative means.