To post or not to post: the controversial 14-page French Vogue spread featuring model Lara Stone in blackface (and body). I’ve read innumerable reactions to the photographs with perspectives ranging from indifference to condemnation to absolution.
Reasonable questions fog this concept: Why do a shoot like this? Why not hire a Black model? Is this meant to suggest white women are more beautiful as black women than black women? Why 14 pages of this? Where does this controversy lead us? I would say that provocation is most effective when it confronts an idea, when we are forced, at long last, to consider a difficult question, and then to grow from our discomfort. This spread appears to do none of this, it seems frustratingly empty at its core. Its implications are in no way progressive, in fact, the contrary. I might suggest that the entire aim of this concept is this: here we are, reading and writing about this Dutch woman, painted black, more than we would discuss any other fashion spread in any other issue of French Vogue.
The responses I’ve found most interesting have come from Paper Magazine‘s Fashion Market Editor Zandile Blay and Minh-ha of Threadbared.
despite the cheap gimmick of white model/black face/”African clothing,” I don’t believe it was meant as racist or malicious, nor should it be interpreted as such. To do so – no pun intended – is painting the topic black and white. Carine Roitfeld doesn’t hate black people – she probably doesn’t know any. More to the point she likely doesn’t have any on her staff, especially in an editorial capacity. And that points to the real issue: not a white model painted in blackface, but a dirth of black faces in a white industry.
I’m most interested with what Minh-ha writes of recent blackface in the fashion industry:
…some are defending French Vogue for its provocativeness (”creative images . . . can sometimes [be] off-putting”) and for its postracialism (arguing that it is “sort of beautiful in that having a person of one ethnic background look convincingly like she might be of another race shows the interconnectedness of us all”). But what is on display in French Vogue and on Diez’s runway is not beautiful black bodies, but what Nirmal Puwar describes as “the universal empty point” that white female bodies are able to occupy precisely because their bodies are racially unmarked.
Such images and their inevitable postmodern, postracial, freedom-of-artistic-expression discourses and apologists are not only tired, today they are tiring.
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