Another blackface controversy — or is it? On Monday, Katy Perry pulled two styles of shoes from her namesake line following complaints that they look like blackface makeup. The shoes in question were a slip-on mule, called 'Rue Face,' as well as the 'Ora Face,' both featuring facial features on a black shoe.
But do the shoes deserve the criticism they've received?
On Tuesday, the "Firework" singer responded to the backlash, releasing a statement to Entertainment Tonight, saying: "The Rue and The Ora were part of a collection that was released last summer in 9 different colorways (black, blue, gold, graphite, lead, nude, pink, red, silver) and envisioned as a nod to modern art and surrealism." The statement continues: "I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict any pain. We have immediately removed them from katyperrycollections.com."
Katy Perry 'Blackface' Shoe to Be Pulled from Shelves— Kim Crayton 🏢 💻🎙#causeascene (@KimCrayton1) February 11, 2019
Ok, can we just make this a rule that ANY product, service or person that is NOT Black will NOT create, promote or apply any combination of BLACK + FACE
Can we just make this a thing#causeascenehttps://t.co/5fo3wMKgJp pic.twitter.com/LRFw2bW9BC
Gucci's Alessandro Michele mentioned a similar artistic inspiration for his brand's controversial black balaclava sweater resembling blackface in an apology on Tuesday. The creative director specifically called the since-pulled item "a tribute to Leigh Bowery, to his camouflage art, to his ability to challenge the bourgeois conventions and conformism, to his eccentricity as a performer, to his extraordinary vocation to masquerade meant as a hymn to freedom."
But it's worth taking a closer look at this latest brand scandal. Although the black was a poor choice, Katy Perry's shoes are kitschy and even a bit reminiscent of Cubism, bringing to mind images of Pablo Picasso's paintings. The shoes, arguably, intend to imitate art, not a racist trope. Of course, we're all on high-alert considering how weirdly pervasive Blackface seems to be in our current news cycle. But are we blurring the line between creative inspiration and racial insensitivity?
As Gucci's Michele said in his statement, "ignorance is not an excuse," but neither is intolerance. It begs the question, how do we hold brands accountable for educating themselves and simultaneously leave room for artistic — yet racially sensitive — expression?