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ITNTW: How much can you control your public image? The Gina Reinhart portrait frenzy

Beloved Australian Indigenous artist, Vincent Namatgira’s most recent work is taking the internet by storm. The Archibald prize winner’s most recent collection featured a series of celebrity portraits, including the likes of Adam Goodes, King Charles and Cathy Freeman, however it was his depiction of infamous mining magnate, Gina Reinhart, that found Namatgira in the midst of controversy. 

Initially just another artwork in the gallery, with only a small amount of media coverage on the release of the portraits, the situation drastically changed, when Reinhart began to protest her depiction. Believing her portrait was made purposely unflattering to tarnish her public image, the billionaire became determined to have the portrait removed from the public eye. Sparking her frustration further, was the fact that Reinhart had previously donated thousands of dollars  to the National Gallery of Australia, in which her portrait was displayed. 

Reinhart’s efforts to have the portrait taken down saw other celebrities featured in the collection including Scomo, Julia Gillard and Lionel Rose join her protest. 

The protest quickly spiralled out of control, going viral and attracting attention from around the globe. Reinhart’s portrait became the centre of thousands of social media memes going as far as making American news headlines and Late Night Shows.

It seems her efforts to hide this negative depiction of herself did quite the opposite. This incident is a classic example of the Streisand effect, Gina’s attempts to suppress the painting only amplified its visibility. The more she tried to erase the portrait from public view, the more it spread, generating even greater interest and ridicule. What might have been a fleeting and localised banter transformed into a global sensation, with the portrait becoming a staple of the current internet memes and news coverages.

And just when we all thought the joke might be over, Australian comedian Dan Ilic decided to rekindle the fire. He launched an Indiegogo campaign that successfully raised over $30,000, to fund an electronic billboard in Times Square, displaying the unflattering portrait of Rinehart. Although this campaign in the end did not end up proceeding due to Namatgira’s wishes of not wanting to be involved and escalate the situation, this action still added fuel to the fire.

Namatgira’s portrait has now achieved legendary status, being dubbed Australia’s Mona Lisa. It has become a major attraction, drawing people to the National Gallery of Australia specifically to see the infamous artwork. Ironically, Reinhart’s actions have cemented the portrait’s fame far beyond what it might have achieved on its own.

So where did Reinhart go wrong? 

Public figures, especially those with such a controversial profile like Reinhart, are often the subjects of humour and easy ridicule, from internet memes to social media commentary. Such treatment is expected in the digital age, especially when you are a well known person. Had Reinhart simply ignored the portrait, it likely would have remained a relatively normal painting in the gallery. By making such a public fuss, she inadvertently magnified the severity, and her own humiliation on top of that. In trying to remove the painting, she ensured that it would be remembered and discussed far more widely than it ever would have been otherwise.

In essence, Gina’s overreaction created the very scenario every celebrity hopes to avoid. By drawing attention to the portrait, and attempting to get it removed from the gallery, she turned a small incident into a global embarrassment. This will definitely be in the public consciousness for a while.

Written by Michelle Yeow, PR & Influencer Coordinator

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