Osama bin Laden is a popular subject for graffiti artists: his image is highly recognisable and can be guaranteed to evoke a strong response. Coincidentally, those can also be desirable attributes for someone fronting a product promotion … but bin Laden on a wine label? In fact it’s a stencil image of bin Laden, with a ghetto blaster, used on a label for wine produced by Tasmania’s Moorilla winery. It’s part of a 2008 wine series with label designs featuring street art from Melbourne and Hobart, Australia. Another featured artwork uses an infamous image of an Abu Ghraib inmate subjected to torture. A more extensive gallery of images has also been published in news coverage of the wine release.
The wine industry is intensely competitive, both in Australia and internationally; label designs must stand out, often among shelves of dozens or hundreds of bottles, in order to get sales. Moorilla is an established winery which is developing an edgy, arresting style for some of its label designs. The use of provocative images like these in street art is undoubtedly a political statement, but on the other hand stencilled graffiti has developed into a fashionable style, evoking grunge and urban youth culture. There’s also an ironic humour in the use of the bin Laden stencil: the man who has for years denounced Western culture is juxtaposed with a ghetto blaster, and Moorilla has added another layer of juxtaposition by placing the image on an alcoholic beverage.
The ownership of the images is also an interesting and important question. Street art is still largely uncommercial. Artists in most cases provide no greater attribution than the use of tags to sign their work. I have asked Moorilla if they contacted the artists about the use of their graffiti images on wine label designs; when I hear back from the winery, I’ll post an update here.
What do you think? Is it appropriate to have a crossover of provocative stencil art to product packaging, or is it in bad taste? How much ownership should street artists retain for their often clandestine work? Do you like the label designs?