Thursday, May 7, 2009

Racist, racy or racist raciness? Giselle and the Mandingo photo shoot - Part II

These racially-charged images from a recent photoshoot featuring catwalk star Gisele Bundchen are causing a stir in the blogosphere. Head over to Racialicious and Jezebel to view the entire photo set and follow the debate.

The emergence of these photos is interesting following Tuesday's post about racism in art and entertainment. There is a school of thought that seems to believe that art forms like photography, music and comedy exist on their own plane, outside the context of society's biases and beliefs. As one Jezebel commenter offered:
I'm under the impression it's artistic contrast. Thin, light skinned woman against a backdrop of muscular, dark skinned men. I think the visual is art. Don't see what the fuss is about.
"Poppycock!" I say. Art does not exist in a vacuum. In order to control the message of his work, I would imagine that a seasoned artist, like photographer Solve Sundsbo, must be aware of world views and societal conventions. How could he have directed shots with hyper-muscular, naked, black men--all shining, blue-black skin and shadowed faces-- pulling, tugging and carrying a lithe, white, blonde woman...their fingers intruding into her mouth...her body passively draped over their shoulders...and NOT put them in the context of the stereotypes about black men that have been in place since the first European ship hit the coast of Africa? The notion that an artist could be so unaware beggars belief.

So, accepting that the photographer was aware of what societal biases he was provoking...Was Sundsbo trying to challenge paranoia about black men and white women? I see no evidence of that. But for the last photo in the series (see it at Racialicious), Giselle is pictured as clothed and submissive, while the black men who surround her are dehumanized with missing faces, animalistically muscular, naked (thus sexualized) and aggressive. Seems pretty status quo to me--the tired Mandingo trope dressed up for the modern age.

Latoya at Racialicious served up this quote from a Project Rungay thread about the controversial shoot:

5/3/09 8:36 AM

wow, those photos are fierce. can’t tell if the guys are her slaves or
if they’re raping her. interesting race dialogue. the first photo is super
sexy ridiculous as Ross' comment is (Interesting race dialogue...really?), I think he has sadly hit upon just what Sundsbo was trying to evoke.

What say you?

P.S. Just a Gisele the go-to-girl for photo shoots featuring sketchy race-based imagery? See: Lebron James/King King controversy.


Black British Girl said...

seems like there is going to be a whole lot more of racial themes featuring Giselle

Chimene Jackson said...

i dont think its racist. i am an african-american photographer and i look forward to going into the fine arts with it... it's about time we in this century stop flaring with the "racism" label every time we see the colors mix. it's ART!!!!!!!!!!! if it's not contrasty, it's no good. i love the series, and i love giselle.

Kjen said...

I couldn't put my finger on why this photo shoot made me uncomfortable at first.
When it was just a 1:1 ratio, I can just look at them as a "couple" and that implies (to me) consent, equality, etc.

But when it's a group...I 'see' force, power plays, subservience. I especially dislike the one with the hands crawling over her face - my first instinct is to see the face as trying to break free/breath freely. And no, imagining a black woman surrounded by white men, doesn't change that reaction either. What irks me is that when I imagine white men, or at least a multicultural group of men, in the photos my reactions are mild to non-existent. There is something about the mixture of white and black skin (regardless of gender) that naturally carries an implied power hierarchy - and guess who I always see at the bottom.

Julia said...

I don't know if these images are exactly racist--although I can certainly see that argument--but I do think that they dangle the possibility of racism to lure viewers. In the end, it seems like a marketing strategy, which I don't care for.

And personally, I don't think that art can be interpreted outside of its socio-cultural-historical context, so I'm not buying the "it's just art" defense.

T. Love said...

I agree with Chimene. I too am Black, and I don't find these racist. I find them racially charged and provocative and even controversial, but no, not racist.

I think artists love controversy because it gets them all this free publicity.

Love for the people,

Liberty said...

These photos make me uncomfortable. You are right that art does not exist in a vacuum, and although there is something to be said about it being ART (as Chimene mentioned), that which exploits blatant racism without questioning it evokes a certain type of emotion for me: disgust.

Miriam said...

I'm a strange one. On first glance, it seemed very provocative.

On second glance, i sense there is a 'sexiness' that is missing. The guys seem more functional. Like they're putting up a flag or something and the "flag" just knows its "all that".

The "think sex!" message seems more on the part of the woman.

Miriam said...

In the head photo (with the hands around it) I wish they had shown the contours of her head more. Not with the hands almost over her eyes.

I keep getting the feel that something is missing.

Maybe I'm tired. lol

sweetbombon said...

Every-one have fantasies I think we should be better and admit that this time it's change much.Every day white women looking for black men and Interracial relation ship it's increase every day more. I'm a brown Latin man and I love Caucasian women it's too exciting the mixed black and white. While more beauty the woman more exciting it's the fantasy.


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