Tag Archives: The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins

The Thin Line Between Art and Explotation

by Latoya Peterson

I watched yesterday’s thread with great interest – and not just because the racists came out to play behind the scenes. When I first got the tip on Gisele’s shoot, I pulled up the images in the company of my host in Houston. As we all looked at the images pop up, three words fell out of our mouths and into the air.

From our host: “Beautiful.”

From my boyfriend: “Striking.”

From me: “Mmmm.”

Some days, I think I’ve been doing this a bit too long. Where as a long time ago, I could debate the novelty of such themes, the artist’s intent, what have you, now I generally yawn. I get tips showing images like this all the time. There are a lot of photographers who happened upon the idea of using skin color as contrast. Hell, Johnson and Johnson did it in a lotion ad late last year. Yes, we know, dark skin is a contrast. So are many other things. Like using racism to provide lazy characterization and fill in personality in novels and screenplays, the contrast thing has been done, will be done, will continue to be done. I’m bored.

But my companions were not. And that is because art is something created by one person and consumed by others, with all kinds of experiences and ideas projected onto the resulting work. I, seeing this kind of study in racial contrast often, didn’t see anything too special about the photos. They, probably seeing the image as the artist intended, were caught up in the contrast and the arresting forwardness of the images. It is this dynamic – the idea that the viewer informs the interpretation – that makes critiquing and presenting art on Racialicious so difficult. You never really know what is informing the viewer and how they will interact with the piece. In writing the piece, I intentionally left my ideas about it vague, presenting just the images, a counter image, and the first comment on the thread.

So with that, imagine my reaction when clicking on my twitter feed and having reader Julian Obubo hit me with this image:

And I thought to myself, Oh, this is about to be some shit, isn’t it? Continue reading