Fashion just keeps making the same mistakes. Dasha Zhukova, Miroslava Duma and the team at Buro 24/7 learned about Martin Luther King Jr. Day the hard way when they chose to publish an image of Zhukova sitting atop a replica of a naked black woman lying on her back in bondage yesterday.
Artist Allen Jones’ chair, which looks to be a more recent edition of the blonde versions he did in the Sixties, is bad enough. But the composition of the image — a serene, porcelain-skinned member of the world’s wealthiest one percent sitting on top of an implicitly poorer, brown-skinned woman, her legs bound to her torso — and the contextualisation surrounding it (an online luxury fashion publication owned by the fashion world’s most popular face of wealth right now) makes the whole scenario laughably wrong. And only laughing to keep from crying. There you have it: sexual and racial exploitation doing a 69 on top of a bed — or, in this case, a sheepskin rug — of socioeconomic baggage.
One could read this image in a number of ways (mistress and slave, pimp and ho, the powerful and the powerless, the virginal and the Hottentot, etc.) — but any way you do, it would still be wrong. One could also argue that Zhukova lives in a bubble, but I don’t think that’s it. Sure, she might not be in touch with anyone who isn’t in her economic class. But Zhukova founded Garage, another title out of Russia that chronicles luxury fashion and art, with the help of her friend Shala Monroque, a woman who is open about her social consciousness and is racially aware. Zhukova isn’t completely removed from black culture and/or people who aren’t like her.
From my vantage point (my desk in London) I’d guess that Zhukova is trying to make a statement, it just so happens to be a terrible one that fails. In the Q&A, which you can read via Google Translate, she says this: ‘I believe that art – it’s a great tool for the modernisation and development of society and culture, and this kind of change is always for the better.’
So ostensibly, she’s using this chair to make a statement. Which makes here a good place in this piece to look at the artist behind that ‘black woman chair’: Allen Jones.
His work, rooted in erotica, has been called degrading. As the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones pointed out, it’s ‘so blatantly fetishistic that to say it objectifies women is a tautology: that is clearly what it sets out to do. Why?’ Because of course a grossly sexist act doesn’t count as such when it’s done openly, proudly and ironically.
I don’t think Dasha and Buro 24/7 created this moment ignorantly, but instead tried to prove how culturally cool and progressive they are by making the most culturally regressive statement imaginable. But what’s the statement? There’s no ‘there’ there — a point made obvious by the fact that Dasha and Miroslava didn’t have the courage to stand behind their provocation. Instead, when push came to shove, they just quietly cropped the offensive image. And while that doesn’t quite do it for me (how about publicly acknowledging the insensitivy?), the disembodied black feet in stripper heels suspended next to Dasha’s face are a ghostly reminder.
Update: Miroslava Duma issued an apology via Instagram that includes this explanation: ‘The chair in the photo should only be seen as a piece of art which was created by British Pop-Artist Allen Jones, and not as any form of racial discrimination. In our eyes everyone is equal.’ Except, of course, when that person is serving as an object for you to sit on. Meanwhile, Dasha Zhukova has released a statement clarifying that Bjarne Melgaard is actually the artist behind the chair, which references Jones’s work:
‘The chair pictured in the Buro 24/7 website interview is an artwork created by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard, one of a series that reinterprets art historical works from artist Allen Jones as a commentary on gender and racial politics. Its use in this photo shoot is regrettable as it took the artwork totally out of its intended context, particularly given that Buro 24/7’s release of the article coincided with the important celebration of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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.
Garage Magazine has a strong track record of promoting diversity and racial and gender equality in the worlds of art and fashion, and will continue in our mission to stir positive debate on these and other issues.’