Darfurnica (detail), Nadia Plesner, 2010
Danish artist Nadia Plesner got in hot water with Louis Vuitton in 2008 for depicting an African child with one of its high-end bags on one arm and a chihuahua in the other (below) as part of her campaign urging divestment from Sudan over the conflict in Darfur. Now the company is suing her again: this time, the luxury goods company has filed a copyright infringement suit at The Hague that will penalize her 5,000 Euros for each day a likeness of its Audra bag in her painting Darfurnica remains on her website. The company has been tallying her penalty since Jan. 28.
"The story about Darfur must be told, and I believe I should have my artistic freedom of speech to do so," Plesner writes on her website.
Whereas the first legal kerfuffle with Vuitton ended in mid-2008 with Plesner agreeing to stop selling t-shirts bearing the handbag image, this time Plesner's art is not merchandise to be sold but a work of fine art. Created to the same dimensions as painter Pablo Picasso's Guernica, a 1937 polemic against the carpet-bombing of the Basque town of the same name, the idea for Plesner's piece hinged on news that officials decided to shroud Picasso's famed painting in blue cloth during a 2003 UN press conference on the Iraq War by John Negroponte and Colin Powell.
"It is amazing that an art work can be considered so powerful, that it has to be covered up while governments present their plans," Plesner writes. "It only proves that artists around the world must continue to work with the harsh issues to influence the people with power and to start important debates."
That same year -- 2003 -- the genocide in Darfur started, she writes. "Politicians come up with new ways to try to hide from us that things stay the same."
Despite a clearly artistic -- and not commercial -- intention behind the work, Louis Vuitton is seeking monetary penalties (220,000 Euros or roughly $307,000 and counting, with no ceiling on the penalty) and aims to prevent Plesner from exhibiting the painting either on her website or at venues in the European Union. (Here's an unofficial English translation of the court order.)
Plesner, who now runs a foundation that raises funds for projects like sending medical equipment to Darfur or buying a vehicle for use at an orphanage in Tanzania, is lawyering up for her defense. Her opponents won't need a fundraiser for its legal efforts: Louis Vuitton -- aka LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton -- had profits of $28.26 billion last year, and its chairman, Bernard Arnault, rose on Forbes' billionaires list to world's fourth-richest man, with a net worth of $41 billion.
But Plesner reportedly has an unorthodox ally. According to media reports and an image posted at Reddit (.png file), the hacktivist group Anonymous is launching a campaign against the company. The goal is to use "any non-physically violent method available to us to cause financial damage to Louis Vuitton."
Big words? Perhaps, but Anonymous has reportedly been successful in launching distributed denial of service attacks against various entities, bringing down the websites of BMI (for its "war on copyright"), Americans for Prosperity (the anti-union group funded by the Koch Brothers that's been active in Wisconsin in recent weeks) and VISA and Mastercard (for the company shutting out Wikileaks), among others.
Update: Louis Vuitton lawsuit against Nadia Plesner inspires Dutch street artist; first hearing set for Mar. 30
Update: On May 4, 2011, the court in The Hague ruled against Louis Vuitton, finding that "the importance of [Plesner's work] outweighs the importance of Vuitton (protection of property)." An elated Plesner tells Eyeteeth, "Today is a great day for art."