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)
Columbia College alumni and filmmaker Jessica Estelle Huggins believes the tongue is mightier than the sword. Her latest independent project Chi-voices: A Poetic Film Series, gives those affected by youth violence a chance to speak their experiences through Spoken Word. Chi-Voices, featuring seven passionate Chicago poets, Jessica aims to help change thinking. “As a spoken word film effort, our objective is to exhibit the gritty realities of violence directly from community members — no filter, no hidden motives but truth.”
[Click here to support this project: http://igg.me/at/chivoices/x/4273561]
Jessica hopes that this film will be used by schools, organizations and the like
to encourage others to use their pen and voices to help heal. “We aim for this to not only be an ingenious form of healing but also an educational tool. Our objective is to tackle socioeconomic issues, broken homes, a short-sighted mentality, and the absence of mature problem solving strategies.”
Jessica has big plans for this series. As it gains momentum, she envisions Chi-Voices touring high schools, community centers and jails, to activate a shift in mentality. She adds, “It will allow youth to dissect how unnecessary violence scars our humanity.”
This writer is honored to be associated with such a project both as a consultant and featured artist. We are asking for your support in getting this film series made via Indiegogo.com. Click on the video trailer to get a taste of what Chi-Voices is about and give your support. http://igg.me/at/chivoices/x/4273561
What do you think about this project?
Thank you in advance for supporting Chi-Voices: http://igg.me/at/chivoices/x/4273561
If you’re asked to write a recommendation, give a LinkedIn endorsement, or you want someone to write one for you, take some composition tips from Frederick Douglass, one of history’s greatest abolitionists and orators. Frederick Douglass’s statue was recently unveiled June 19 at the state Capital in Washington D.C., an honor long overdue. Douglass was an impressive writer and an edifier of those he admired. In 1868, Douglass wrote an exemplary letter of endorsement for his fellow comrade freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, who was extraordinary in her own right. A biography had just been written about her daring exploits as the conductor of the Underground Railroad. She was referred to as the “Moses of Her People”.
I bet Frederick and Harriet would have been tight LinkedIn buddies, don’t you agree?
Read and take notes.
Rochester, August 29, 1868 – “Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, “God bless you,” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony for your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy. Your friend, Frederick Douglass.”
— Excerpt, “Letters Of A Nation,” Ed. A. Carroll
- Frederick Douglass statue unveiled in Washington DC (thegrio.com)
- Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist, Bad-Ass (thetruthaboutguns.com)
- Harriet Tubman and the Combahee River Raid (moorbey.wordpress.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?
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)