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'Racist Chair' Photograph Incites Outrage

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If you have even a passing interest in art, fashion, feminism, race rights, then you’ve probably caught wind of the mass media hubbub surrounding Russian It-girl Dasha Zhukova, being photographed on a modern art piece, a chair made out of the contorted form of a black woman-mannequin in not much more than a pair of high heeled boots.

Zhukova, the editor of art magazine Garage and girlfriend of oligarch Roman Abramahov, was photographed for Miroslava Duma’s Russian fashion website Buro 24/7 and the timing was particularly wince-inducing, since the photo debuted on the website on Martin Luther King Day.

After enraged bloggers and Instagram users complained, Duma removed the picture from her Instagram account and cropped the picture on the website so Zhukova was visible, but most of the chair was out of the shot.

Dasha Zhukova said "This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an art work intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics. I utterly abhor racism, and would like to apologise to anyone who has been offended by this image."

Bjarne Melgaard, the Norwegian born artist who crafted the chair presumably intended it to act as a sly tribute to 1960s pop artist Allen Jones, who built an almost identical chair – except his mannequin was a white woman.

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The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones has already written an interesting article summarising why he feels Chairgate has been blown out of proportion – that Melgaard is famed for being a “projectile vomiter" of the art world (his previous works include the Pink Panther smoking crack cocaine) and that the chair isn’t meant to act as a racist statement so much as to provoke discussion about race and to (rightly) outrage the viewer.

While Jones has a point, the enraged reaction to the photo still feels understandable. Duma’s decision to use the chair in the shoot seems naïve and misguided – in the context of a gallery, the chair may be thought-provoking (and even then, one has to question how far shock-art can work to critique the misogyny and racism it seems to be upholding), but for use on a fashion website - an industry notorious for its shunning of black women – it seems highly insensitive. 

"Russian billionaire sits on a naked black woman chair. What could possibly go wrong with such playful racist misogyny?" Twitter user and wit BeardedGenius wrote.

Well, quite.

8 years ago