When Fashion Offends: D&G, Slavery & A Personal Boycott

For one reason or another, over the last two weeks, I’ve been entangled in a number of arguments about fashion and cultural symbols. It’s nothing new for me, to become embroiled in controversy, so I thought I’d bring the conversation off of Facebook, away from Twitter, out of the trenches of social media and onto my blog.

I have a deep appreciation for the creative abilities of the human mind, but some mediums just aren’t for me. The thought of being dragged through the Guggenheim to check out the latest Kandinsky exhibit is probably my idea of personal hell. No offense to Kandinsky (or the Guggenheim), but I’m just really not interested in 20th century art. And before you throw me under the bus for being ‘uncultured’, I adore performance art; Dance, song, the stage and film. Fashion is a form of art, without question. Yes, it’s often copied, it’s recycled and reworked, but in the fashion world, there are few things more more divine than the brilliance of that initial design. An innovative silhouette that someone dreamed up, toiled over, and brought to market. Fashion can be both evocative and provocative. But are there are times when the vision of a designer crosses a line and becomes overtly offensive? I think, yes.

Back in September of this year, Dolce & Gabbana  revealed its’, shall we say, colourful contribution to the Spring 2013 line-up. Along with a barrage of their usual somewhat Avante garde designs, in the mix, was a pair of earrings that whipped up a significant amount of controversy. The earrings, were donned by a Caucasian model and depict ‘Blackamoor’ women. Not to colour your opinion or anything, but the actual use of the term ‘Blackamoor’ is in itself, offensive. It is a term that has been used to describe African ‘Moors’ who were sold into the European slave market. Outside of Europe, pieces that depict these termed peoples, are often referred to as ‘Aunt Jemima Dolls’. You all know who Aunt Jemima is right? If not, her real name was Nancy Green, and she was an African American woman born into slavery in the 1890’s in Mississippi. She was an activist, and while she was able to eventually shake off the chains of slavery, she spent the rest of her days promoting a pancake mix of which still bears her image today until her tragic death in Chicago in 1925.

Without delving into the history of African slavery, the simple point is that the term ‘Blackamoor’, for many, is a symbol of repression, brutality, and cruelty, yet it seems that D&G have collectively chosen to ignore this and instead, chosen to hide amidst the skirts of a very specific interpretation of history. If we look at the archaeological record (yes, this is the sort of thing I do for fun), there is certainly evidence of variations of this image represented in pottery dating quite far back, but one cannot ignore context, and in the context of African slavery, choosing a symbol that is synonymous with the well documented and systematic repression, murder and rape of a people, in my opinion, is both alienating and offensive.

I can’t say that I was shocked by the number of people that flew to Dolce & Gabbana’s defense. “Its Dolce & Gabbana, It’s fashion, it’s life” was the sort of rhetoric that I kept coming up against. I’d sort of like to blow their defense out of the water. Last time I checked, “it’s art” was not a defence. If you want to have  a discussion about ‘freedom of expression’, than you should also be prepared to have a healthy chat about cultural sensitivity.

As a woman of colour, I take offense to the commodification of a cultural blight. I think Dolce & Gabbana has more than just ‘crossed’ the line, they’ve catapulted themselves far beyond. Parading an army of Caucasian women donning African slave imagery is just not something that I’m okay with. What do you think?



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