Have you ever seen those classical paintings from Europe where a white woman, man or child of prominence is perched looking regal, while a black person, usually a servant, is in the background hustling around to provide some type of service to the prominent white person? Ya’ll know what I mean right? I remember looking at these paintings in my humanities class in college, listening to the professor speak more about the color choice than the fact that there was another subject, another person, a black person, on the canvas. It wasn’t hard to tell that those black servants were just ornamental. Often times they were hard to miss as they were often depicted as a part of the setting. And the fact that we never talked about how effed up that was really bothered me.
I was met with that same annoyance when I stumbled across the picture above on Clutch.
This photo, taken very recently, features the image of Russian socialite and Garage Magazine Editor-In-Chief, Dasha Zhukova, sitting on top of a black, female mannequin fashioned like a chair. The picture of Zhukova was taken for an interview she recently completed with the Russian artist, Miroslava Duma, for her site Buro 247.
Though the “woman” Zhukova is using is just a mannequin, the imagery is still painful. Here we have yet another instance of the black body being used as an ornament, less than human.
And again, considering that this woman is topless with nearly knee high boots on, it’s just another way in which the black woman’s body is objectified as merely a sex object.
Apparently, this mannequin was either inspired by or part of a collection of furniture by Allen Jones that features mannequins dressed as strippers. Except Jones’ collection features white mannequins, from what I can see.
The whole thing is problematic really. It’s the intersection of racism and sexism. Why feature scantily clad women as furniture? As a woman I’m wondering how Zhukova, a woman, could sit on the chair comfortably without feeling a tinge of apprehension. Perhaps she did. Maybe she wouldn’t have if the mannequin had been white and more relatable to her as a Russian. Who knows. Either way, she posed for the photograph.
The image caused controversy after Duma, posted the picture on her Instagram account. She was met with backlash and decided to remove it. But at the time of publishing this piece, it’s still on Duma’s site.
Artists love to call themselves pushing the envelope and often times they don’t adhere to or even consider the morality of their audience. They’re not thinking about how yet another image of a black woman being dehumanized might affect people who don’t look and live life the way they do. Or maybe they do consider it but think the art statement justifies soliciting painful emotions.
The lack of morality is the biggest issue. But aside from that, from an artistic standpoint, when will folk realize that there’s nothing avant garde or particularly innovative about objectifying the black body. It’s been done for centuries, it’s still being done everyday on television, in movies, in fashion…everywhere. If you don’t care about morality and the social ramifications of such an image, fine… but at least do something we haven’t seen being done to death.