Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Art Corner: Allen Jones and Bjarne Melgaard

Russian-based fashion website Buro 24/7 published a photo of Garage Magazine editor and socialite Dasha Zhukova, sitting on top of a sculpture of a black woman in bondage by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard. The photo popped up on both Buro 24/7 and Russian fashion scene fixture and Buro 24/7's founder, Miroslava Duma's instagram.

The public outcry was instant. Critics took to Buro and Duma's instagram citing racism further inflamed by the fact that the photo was published on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Both Duma and Zhukova have since issued and apology and the offending photo has been removed from Duma's instagram an an altered version of the photo with the chair/sculpture cropped out is up on the Buro website.

From Zhukova:
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.
Just what is the intended context? The Malgaard piece is in fact, as Zhukova states, a reinterpretation of British pop artist Allen Jones bondage sculptures.

Sculptures by artist Allen Jones

The original sculptures by Allen were done in the 60s and bring up questions of gender and the objectification of women. The sculptures presents women as mere sexual objects and reduces them to basic form and function devoid of any humanity or power.

Melgaard expands on Allen's orginal work by recreating the Allen sculpture with a black woman. The addition of race injects even more connotations of discrimination and oppression. Further compounding these messages is the Buro 24/7 photo itself which depicts a well-to-do white Zhukora sitting atop the chair.

The fact that Zhukova uses art as a refuge in which to claim sanctuary just exposes not only ignorance, as art is not created in a vacuum, but also brings to light the troubling trend of the fashion industry's racial insensitivity that is too often explained away by 'art', a creative expression not intended to offend.

Just earlier this month Belgian designer Van Beirendunk sent his models down the catwalk in Milan with Native American headdresses that read "Stop Racism". The headdresses were in response to the appropriation of Native American culture by fashion designers. Such incidents of appropriation include A Victoria Secret fashion show in which models walked down the runway with Native American headdresses and Chanel's pre-fall Western/Native American inspired pieces complete with feathers and headdresses. Chanel's designer Karl Lagerfeld responded to criticism of using the headdresses by saying that he did not mean to offend anyone and was just paying homage to Dallas, the city in which this years Metier d'art show took place.

Exposing these instances of supposed ignorance is the first step in opening up a dialogue on race in fashion.Fashion, art, nor any other medium should not be a refuge for the culturally illiterate. Couching discrimination or racism in creativity just helps to further obscure the underlying racial issues in fashion.



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