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.

Daisy Deadhead wins "Girls Like Us"

Congrats to Daisy Deadhead, the winner of the last Win-a-book-Wednesday offering: "Girls Like Us" by Sheila Weller. Daisy, e-mail me at with your address.

Thanks for playing, all. Look out for another Win-a-book-Wednesday soon!


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