Okay… this is where my emotional, intuitive, reactionary mind picks a fight with my rational, analytical, objective mind. Buro 247 published an online interview with Dasha Zhukova, the Russian editor-in-chief of Garage magazine, who was photographed atop a chair made of a life size scantily clad black woman frozen in a very compromising position.
I am trying to be fair about the existence of this Black Woman Chair aka art piece created by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard. It’s one of a series of installments inspired by the work of artist Allen Jones as a commentary on sexism and racism. To be fair there are other “furniture” pieces in this collective that feature white women in similar compromising positions.
But take the Black Woman Chair out of its collective, plop a white socialite on top of it (or her), and instantly another layer of meaning rises to the surface. The one who’s on top becomes part of the art piece. What becomes the message? Dominance over subservience? Privilege over bondage? Superiority over inferiority? Actually there may be brilliance in this transformation of perspective. If a black man sits on the Black Woman Chair, what would that say? How about a white man? A black woman? In a gallery this chair is provocative art. As Dasha’s prop in a photo op, it becomes racist.
The backlash has been extreme. In an issued statement, Dasha had this to say “…I regret allowing an artwork with such charged meaning to be used in this context. I utterly abhor racism and would like to apologize to those offended by my participation in this shoot…”
Miroslava Duma of Buro 24/7.ru wrote on Instagram, “Dear All, Buro 24.7.ru team and I would like to express our sincerest apology to anyone who we offended or hurt…”
Really now? Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking when they do stuff like this.
What do you think?
How do people of other cultures and countries perceive the black experience? Is the art of blackface a global mockery of black people or an act of self expression? The likeness, lifestyle, language and mannerisms of cultures in the African diaspora are often distorted and used as props, backdrops, accessories, exclamation points, iterations and punchlines. Is black culture to be twisted, deformed and repurposed to fit the objectives of another culture’s agenda? Many think it is harmless fun and will defend the practice.
Recently, Dunkin Donuts Thailand franchise depicted a model in blackface with pink lips to advertise their new charcoal donut. The Human Rights Watch and other groups were in an uproar. Though the Thailand agency felt that America was being overly sensitive. Dunkin Donuts issued an immediate apology and is in the process of yanking the ad. Was this racism or just ad art misunderstood?
Asia is notorious for mocking black people in their advertisements and products. Does the fact that blacks are different in skin color, hair texture and features give them the right to racially objectify blacks to sell products? To them, blacks are obviously fascinating and repulsive at the same time.
Racial insensitivity is evident in other countries. Last year, Sweden made world headlines when culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, was photographed happily slicing into what is now infamously called the blackface or ni*ger cake at World Art Day in Stockholm. The edible installation was sculpted in the likeness of a grotesquely distorted African woman by black Swedish artist Makode Aj Linde. it was meant to provoke strong reaction, awareness and disgust for the brutal practice of female circumcision in Africa. However it evoked outrage on a global scale. Regardless of who created the “art piece” or why, the installation was considered exploitation of African women and their bodies.
France’s Numero fashion magazine caught global flack when Caucasian model Ondria Hardin, posed as an “African Queen” in their controversial fashion expose’. In an industry that often shuns models of African descent, Numero found the “look” of Africa intriguing on a white girl.
Mexico’s beloved dimwit, Mimen Pinguin is a longstanding comic strip character known for his street smarts, playful demeanor and ape-like features. Is this flattery or mockery?
Here in America we have accepted the kindly servants gracing the boxes of Uncle Ben’s rice, Cream of Wheat and Aunt Jemima. Do we still consider these images culturally insensitive? Or have we accepted these images as harmless age old branding?
New Orleans gift shops are still selling blackfaced Mammy cookie jars with matching salt and pepper shakers and toothpick holders. Should one be outraged?
If the tables were turned and we used yellow skin and slanted eyes to promote lemon donuts with slits instead of holes would Asians be offended? What about a whiteface with pink pimples selling crackers?
I don’t know. You tell me.
- Dunkin’ Donuts Apologizes For Blackface Ad In Thailand [PHOTO] (hiphopwired.com)
Is India Arie truly loving the skin she’s in? I can’t think of any other artist or celebrity whose skin tone is tied so significantly to what they do and who they are. The realization of that fact struck me a few days ago, as I read about the brouhaha over the image from India’s new single, Cocoa Butter . India sports a hot bronze and black mini against a bronze background. Her skin glows golden brown instead of her usual dark cocoa. Questions fluttered throughout the Internet whether India succumbed to the “lure” of skin lightening treatments. She is the example for all women who refuse to subscribe to society’s standard of beauty. Didn’t she write Brown Skin, I Am Not My Hair and Video? The very thing that I think kept India from winning any of her seven Grammy nominations in 2002, is the very thing that makes her an icon: The unapologetic embracing of her brown skin and all that goes with it. It is what keeps us waiting patiently for her occasional hit singles. And to think she would renege on what is true. What a profound betrayal that would be, and an irreversible screw-up of her brand.
What she sings, how she sings, Who she is, right down to that mahogany skin is what we identify with. This is India’s brand equity. It defines her image in the minds of her fans and admirers. Can skin tone be so important that it becomes not only the person but the persona? I thinks so. Just like logos have a consistent style code e.g. specific colors, font, size, etc. So does one’s image. That person is a walking logo. In India’s case, her hair, features, and yes the tone of her skin, has always stayed congruent to the message in her songs. Straying from that, ruins her brand.
- Who is your target?
- What do you stand for?
- How do you communicate that message to the “who”?
India’s brand has enjoyed a point of distinction, that has stayed consistent throughout her career. India’s brand has been successful because it’s authentic. Altering any of it is disrespecting the brand…and us.
I know this sounds silly but one “color-of-skin-as-a-brand” example that comes to mind just as strongly is the Grinch, if his green turned beige, that would ruin his whole grouchy Seuss-y vibe.
India Arie quickly squashed that nasty rumor with a laugh via Twitter and Facebook. Here is what she wrote on fb:
Love to all #SoulBirdsWorldWide are you ready for this #SongVersation ?
Personally speaking! I’m happy to say I have NOT BLEACHED my skin LOL! ROTF at the thought.
1. I wouldn’t endanger my health that way
2. i’m so in love with myself I have no DESIRE to BLEACH myself. Lol
3. The GLOW you see IS (magnificent) lighting
4. THE LIGHT you see, Well thats all ME!!
Politically speaking racism/colorism in the black community is a MUUUUUUUCH larger #SongVersation #skinversaton
THAT I’d LOVE to “shed light on”..that conversation IS REAL, …let’s keep talking. #SongVersation #soulbirdsworldwide
Big love to ALL #soulbirdsworldwide
Do you think the skin bleaching rumor damaged India Arie’s personal brand?
Okay folks, we’ve seen it all when it comes to fashion and fads within African and African-American culture, bleaching creams, gold grills, sagging pants and now, pink lips. Yes friends, tattooing the bottom lip pink (or red, if you prefer) is the latest fashion craze among many men in Nigeria. Why oh why, do they decide to permanently mark their lips in such a fashion? A Lagos tattoo artist said he’s “cleaning up” black lips by painting them pink. Recipients of the procedure say pinker lips attract the ladies.
Personally, these tattooed pink lips remind me of demeaning stereotypical caricatures from back in the day where darker skinned Blacks who did sport lips that had pinkish tones were mocked by exaggerated, demeaning and racist images. One image comes to mind: Little Black Sambo. Ironically, he was a beloved storybook character, an adorable little coon with pink lips that got into mishaps and misadventures. Sambo was as popular as today’s Wimpy Kid Diaries or the enduring Curious George. Thanks to the Black Power Movement, we managed to eradicate most negative imagery – pink lips and all.
Now a half century later, on the shores of the Motherland, we see this pink lip buffoonery being embraced as a fashion statement. If you ask me, I think it’s yet another attempt to alter the unappreciated, much hated reality of black skin.
To my misguided brothers who think their black lips would look “Pretty in Pink”: Embrace and celebrate your true colors. Ditto to the brothers who hate their naturally pinkish bottom lips. I pray that this pink lip trend will not cross the shores of America, or anywhere else in the Black Diaspora.
What do you think of the pink lip craze??
- Crazy Fashion: Nigerian Men tattoo their lips pink! (habariganiamerica.com)
Guess you heard about Newsweek’s latest mag cover. Talk about biased journalism! At least we know where Newsweek stands on our President by making conservative historian Niall Ferguson‘s one-sided article the cover story. Do you think it’s fair journalism or did Newsweek cross the line?
Here are more magazine covers that generated their share of raised eyebrows. What’s your opinion?
Well! This Time cover story on attachment parenting left a bad taste in many readers’ mouths. But apparently not for this little boy. Is this sensationalism? I say heck yeah! Kinda nasty too. And I breastfed both of my sons. Tell me what you think. But first, finish your milk.
The Cover of the usually white bread Publishers Weekly magazine got unmercifully picked on for what was perceived to be its insensitivity toward African-American literature. Many felt that the double entendre of showing Afro picks to pun African-American publishing trends, was insulting and racist. What do you think when you first see the cover? Now here’s the back story: The cover was actually designed by an African-American at PW who took the work of Lauren Kelly from the book Posing Beauty: African-American Images from the 1890s to the Present by Deborah Willis. Posing Beauty was one of the books featured in Publisher’s Weekly. PW issued a heartfelt apology. Does knowing the back story change your opinion?
King Kong makes a comeback, this time as Lebron James on the cover of Vogue. Black ape-man grabs white damsel in distress. Too me, it’s obviously racist and insulting. Whoever came up with this concept belongs in a zoo.
More Comebacks! Nobody told me Jesus’ second coming would be as Kanye West! Rolling Stone’s cover got anti hip-hop fundamentalists speaking in tongues on this one. I’m a Christian, but this didn’t bother me so much. Charlton Heston played Moses and he was an atheist. Speaking of atheists, check out the next cover….
Ricky Gervais on the New Humanist magazine cover pokes fun at Jesus lovers. True, atheists have the right to their opinions. But just like they don’t want to be offended by my beliefs, I don’t want to be ridiculed for mine. Ricky and New Humanist can go to hell. What do you think?
In December 1963, Esquire magazine graced its cover with the first Black Santa Claus; actually World Heavyweight Champion, Sonny Liston. George Lois art directed and Carl Fischer shot it. Needless to say this shocked the ho ho ho out of White America, especially down South. Esquire lost thousands in ad revenue. But the cover gained high esteem and praise for its daring move. Would you want Sonny sliding down your chimney Christmas night?
Words could not describe the unspeakable sorrow and loss felt on September 11, 2001. The New Yorker captured it with this cover by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly. Look closely and see what is literally missing.
From ravishing to ravaged. This Time cover on U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan sums up the damage of war and terrorism. Are we exiting a nation unprepared to defend itself? This teen-aged girl named Aisha, had her nose and ears chopped off by the Taliban. Is Time playing with our emotions with this cover?
Nicki, Nicki, Nicki. Complex magazine’s 10th anniversary issue deserves a complex subject on its cover. This really isn’t that controversial to me, but to my more conservative friends…Lawdy, Lawdy. I think the art direction is pretty cool and fun. What’s your take?
Out of my 10 picks, which one is the most controversial to you and why?
Renown artist Elizabeth Catlett, who passed away April 2 at age 96, created timeless work that captured the beauty, struggle and strength of women of color.
Our truth lives on in her work.
BE.U.tiFUL: BE U to the FULLest!
- Elizabeth Catlett, Kathleen Flenniken And The Porshce 911 Carrera S. (cadmefoghlamthainniu.wordpress.com)
As we end Black History Month, I want to pay homage to the Black is Beautiful movement that began 50 years ago this year. The belief in many world cultures that black people’s contributions are insignificant and their physical features inherently unattractive, was challenged over a half century ago by South African author/activist Steven Biko in his Black Consciousness testament. A groundbreaking event that reinforced this consciousness soon became the catalyst for change in the Black Power Movement. Black is Beautiful steadily built momentum until it became the proud cry of blacks throughout the diaspora, especially in the United States. And it was achieved decades before Facebook or Twitter.
Challenging European Aesthetics
In 1962, a group of designers, musicians, artists and writers called The African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS) collaborated on an unprecedented fashion event that fueled change in the perception of black imagery around the world, The Grandessa Models Naturally ’62 debuted January 28 at Harlem’s Purple Manor. The theme: Black is Beautiful, a provocative statement of its time, with the subtitle, “The Original African Coiffure and Fashion Extravaganza Designed to Restore Our Racial Pride & Standards. Among those responsible for this event was Kwami Braithwaite, President of the National Council of Artists (NCA) New York Chapter; Carlos A. Cooks of the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement, models Jimmy Abu Williams and Black Rose Nelms.
Singer/actress Abbey Lincoln and musician Max Roach, were charter members who performed at the events. The Grandessa models challenged European aesthetics by showing off their natural textured hair, full features and no makeup as they graced the runway in vibrant African designs created by local fashion designers. They took Harlem by storm. It was the birth of what would be an international phenomenon.
Black is Beautiful Reaches Tipping Point
By 1966, the Civil Rights Movement rose to a feverish pitch, which propelled the Black is Beautiful movement. Given the swell of Black unrest, this was the year the Black is Beautiful event reached a tipping point. Negroes and coloreds throughout America were proclaiming their blackness without shame or apology. It’s interesting to note how it trended without digital technology. AJASS designed books, magazines, and pamphlets touting the Black is Beautiful experience. It spread quickly by automobile, train, airplane and ship via travelers determined to shift paradigms. The Naturally extravaganzas toured such cities as Chicago and Detroit. The Black is Beautiful movement soon became part of the radical mainstream. Brothers and sisters of a darker hue were now in demand for TV and advertising.
African inspired clothing and jewelry were the rage. Blacks abandoned hair chemicals and conks for naturals and afros. Black people not only said they were beautiful, they believed it.
New Movement Reclaiming the Beauty of Blackness
The Black is Beautiful movement lasted nearly two decades but faded in the 80’s. Why did it go out of style? Did the natural hair backlash in corporate America have anything to do with it, or the Jheri curl and designer labels? Did integration, assimilation, or emerging multiculturalism contribute to its demise?
Black pride and standards have regressed since the 60’s. Though the current generation have held on to the “Black”, not all see it as beautiful; hence the upsurge in weaves and bleaching creams. But despite the backsliding, there is a black light at the end of the tunnel. The spirit of Black is Beautiful is making a comeback through the growing number of black women who are forsaking chemically treated hair for natural styles. Black is Beautiful today speaks to women of many hues and hair textures as evidenced in P & G’s My Black is Beautiful campaign. I have the feeling that this quiet resurgence will have a more lasting impact.