Why The Black-Woman-Chair Editorial Was Wrong On Every Level

miroslava-duma-chairPhoto: Via Buro 24/7.
Dasha Zhukova's feature on Buro 24/7 was supposed to be about her position as the editor-in-chief of Garage magazine and her influence on the art and fashion worlds. But, Miroslava Duma's online publication sent a completely different message when it photographed Zhukova on top of a chair shaped like a black woman — heels in the air, a mere object propping up a pretty, white, Russian socialite.
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The image produced an immediate, visceral reaction in us.
Frankly, we'd rather not rattle off all the reasons this particular photograph makes us cringe. Or, why it felt especially upsetting that it came to our attention yesterday — a holiday meant to celebrate one of history's greatest civil-rights heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr. But, yesterday, we were instead reminded that we're far from realizing Dr. King's dream — and that we are, in fact, not a colorblind society.
And, here's the thing. "Art" — at least according to Duma's Instagram apology, as the chair references the work of Allen Jones — should be able to stand for itself. And, perhaps the chairs themselves, taken as a collection, are a statement on the limits of what identifies a piece of fine art. But, in the context that we see them here, with a white woman using a black woman as a perch, without any larger mention of why, the editorial twists the initial reference point and makes it into something far more insidious. It not only implies a level of social inferiority for its subject, but it also objectifies her — a woman — as nothing more than a piece of furniture.
Plus, as editors (fashion or otherwise) we're in the position each and every day to decide what content is inspiring for our readers, what artwork elevates a story, and what messages we want our audience to absorb. Somehow, somewhere, this message made it through an entire editorial process — one we're so familiar with — and that's so shocking to us. Why did nobody raise an objection? Or, even a concern? How did such a wide range of hands sign off on this and allow it to go live on Buro 24/7?
But, ultimately, this isn't a time to look back — or to look ahead. When it comes to images like this, images that shock, upset, and offend us, we need to be right here, in the present. Is this really a photograph that represents the world in 2014? Is this really the way we should choose to depict women, of any race? If there's any time to demand a change, it's now. We can't bear or afford to stand for it any longer.
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