Russian gallerist sparks race row
over "overtly degrading" chair

| 49 comments

Russian gallerist sparks race row over "overtly degrading" chair

News: Russian socialite and gallerist Dasha Zukhova has sparked a racism row after a photograph of her sitting on a chair in the form of an inverted semi-naked black woman appeared alongside an interview on a Russian website.

The photograph, which originally appeared on Buro247, was later cropped by the publication to remove the chair but not before it had circulated widely, sparking furore.

FashionBombDaily editor Claire Sulmers, who broke the story, described the image as an example of "white dominance and superiority, articulated in a seemingly serene yet overtly degrading way."

Russian gallerist sparks race row over "overtly degrading" chair
This image: Zhukova sits on Allen Jones Remake by Bjarne Melgaard, 2013. Main image: Dasha Zhukova portrait published in Buro247

"We can't help but be filled with anger and frustration over the onslaught of negative imagery, constant disregard and unabashed bigotry that continues to plague the fashion industry," wrote Huffington Post's Julee Wilson.

The timing of the interview, which was published on Martin Luther King Day, added to the furore.

Russian gallerist sparks race row over "overtly degrading" chair
Allen Jones Remake by Bjarne Melgaard in Gang Bust exhibition at Venus Over Manhattan, New York, 2013

Zukhova defended the image in a statement, saying: "This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an art work intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics. I utterly abhor racism, and would like to apologise to anyone who has been offended by this image."

The chair - an example of forniphilia or human furniture - was created by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard and is one of a series of interpretations of pieces originally created by British pop artist Allen Jones in 1969.

Russian gallerist sparks race row over "overtly degrading" chair
The original chair by Allen Jones, 1969

Jones created a series of three artworks called Hatstand, Table and Chair featuring white, female fibreglass mannequins. The first is standing with arms outstretched; the second crouching on all fours with a pane of glass on her back; and the third lying on the floor with her legs strapped to her chest and a cushion balanced on her thighs.

Last year, Melgaard presented Allen Jones Remake, an interpretation of Jones' work featuring black mannequins, at an exhibition called Gang Bust at Venus Over Manhattan gallery in New York.

Russian gallerist sparks race row over "overtly degrading" chair
Korova Milk Bar in Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange

Jones' pieces were also interpreted in Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, where forniphilic tables and milk dispensers furnish the Korova Milk Bar. Jones allegedly turned down Kubrick's offer to design the bar for free, forcing Kubrick to commission derivative designs.

Zukhova is girlfriend of Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovic and owner of the Garage gallery in Moscow, which is being designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA. Buro247 is owned by her friend Miroslava Duma.

  • TPaign

    Have you ever noticed that we call footstools “Ottomans”?

    • B-B

      An Ottoman is a specific type of footstool. Originally brought to Europe from the Ottoman Empire. Does it make it racist that a piece of furniture is named after the people that created it?

  • H-J

    Just because the female figure is black, it is a race issue? This same chair has been around since 1969 and is in the collection of Tate, only difference is that the female in that one is white. So apparently it is okay to sit on naked white females, but the moment you want to sit on a black female it is racist? We should be able to sit on chairs of naked females of all race and colour:
    http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/jones-chair-t03244/text-catalogue-entry

    • JH

      This image was released on Monday 20th (MLK Day in the U.S.) a national holiday commemorating a civil rights hero. That can’t be a coincidence. PR stunt gone wrong. This “art” is an obvious rip off of Alex Jones’ work and completely unoriginal. Both pieces are misogynistic( created by men). I have nothing wrong with the chair – its part of a body of work. The image we see in the post above has been taken out of the artist interpretation and is absolutely racist.

      • SS

        Or the release could have been extremely poor timing and an oversight with MLK day.

        • Nygr

          BTW what is MLK day?

      • Jonesy

        Allen Jones designed a chair representing a black woman. Allen Jones was white. This is Art. White woman sits on Allen Jones Black woman chair, she is a racist? Maybe he should not have designed a chair and the MLK thing has me totally confused.

      • H-J

        What the hell has an interview of a Russian socialite for a Russian website have to do with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Take it easy. Not everything revolves around the U.S. you know.

        By the way, that’s not what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind:

        “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

        He didn’t mention anything about only being allowed to sit down at the table of brotherhood on naked white women and not on naked black women because that would be racism of course and not in the spirit of Dr. King.

      • H-J

        I’m sure Martin Luther King Day is a wide celebrated event in Russia.

        • $665905

          Maybe they should celebrate it. I man they sing all the American Xmas songs on national TV in English for Russian New Years. I am sure you can find millions of halloween parties in Moscow, even a few Thanksgiving dinners. Oh don’t forget St. Patricks and Valentines celebrations. Why stop just at those? Go all the way with American holidays.

          I just don’t understand why she is sitting on the chair if she doesn’t even mention the artist in the article. She couldn’t find another chair?

          Just saying.

      • Concerned Citizen

        “That can’t be a coincidence.”Well, yes it can in a country that does not share American prejudices.

        Isn’t odd how whenever there is dark skin involved, everything and everyone is suddenly racist? Seems like a little maturity would go a long way.

    • NVAdamzz

      I won’t lie. At first glance I was like “What theeeee actual f**k?” But when I read the story and looked at the other chairs I thought it was pretty cool. Because of our history with white folks it’s hard to see certain things objectively and I think her choice to display herself sitting on the black model rubbed people the wrong way because of that history.

      She could’ve easily chosen the black chair because of the contrast it has with the room she was in. That’s the first thing I thought after reading the story. From a non-racial, objective, artistic perspective, I think the pieces are dope and they’re really interesting. I especially love her collection with the black versions of the hat stand and the coffee tables.

  • Donny

    To be honest, I didn’t even notice that it was a ‘black’ woman chair. It’s just a woman, sitting on another woman. What’s the big deal?

  • elppa

    Fishing for comments (clicks) again?

  • rui miguel

    So the adult character caught the artists eye that’s maneirism and the finished work caught the curators eye. That’s procurism is it?

    Can’t take this too seriously, this is me doing whatever feels better and pointing out racism is probably just that too. Ohh the anticipation of someone replying it’s actually not racism, sorry.

  • George

    She should be sitting on another Russian socialite.

  • Leiurus

    So, if a man is sitting on the chair, it is misogynistic. If a woman is sitting on the chair, it’s arty. If a white man is sitting on the black woman chair, it’s misogynistic AND racist. Would a black woman sitting on the black woman chair be okay? Politically correct nonsense.

  • wrong

    Are you sure the Russian socialite is not also part of the chair? It is just the right height to sit on both of them. Very smart artwork.

  • LINDA

    Both works are racist and demeaning. It is not so
    much the chair itself that is the issue but the context in which it is used.

    If socialite Dasha Zukhova had sat on the white chair it would be quirky and sexy. Free love, bi-sexuality and all that jazz. At its worst we would refer it to communism and the harsh realities of the controlling
    bourgeois (Russian elite) over its proletariat. I don’t think this would do any favours for Vladimir Putin. He needs all the support he can get.

    The fact that she is Russian is a big deal. Russia is still a racist and homophonic nation, hugely detached from the rest of the world. This little stunt does nothing to their reputation in Russia.

    So when a Russian (regardless of her status) sits on a black girl it can’t be quirky or sexy. It can only be demeaning and the fact it was ‘quickie cropped’
    has so much to do with it. Slavery, Apartheid and racism are still very much modern issues and this is very raw. In particular in Russia where the majority still doesn’t get it.

    If a black girl sat on a white girl there still would be an issue but that is another thing all together.

  • Joseph

    Sorry this is not art, this is a racist white supremacist image that objectifies the black woman as an object by a white woman. Coupled with the fact this was posted on MLK day the message is, “I don’t care about MLK, you’re still beneath me”

    • marty

      As several commenters here and on Claire Sulmers’ website pointed out – there is no MLK day in Russia.

      That Sulmers thought that’s the case shows her intellectual depth. Which one can also get a glimpse of when looking at the rest of her blog.

      If she was really concerned about racism and objectification of women, she probably would not run a fashion blog and write about e.g. Rhianna’s bathing suit.

    • Concerned Citizen

      I can’t think of a more uneducated response.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Some people can’t see the forest for their own prejudicial trees.

  • Lexi Tallisman

    On another completely superficial note, can anyone identify who makes the vanity she’s sitting at?

    • amsam

      Yeah, using that chair was a terrible idea but she apologised. Let’s talk about that AWESOME vanity for a second, can we?

  • Belinda May

    It’s interesting that the focus is on racism and not sexism. The fact that the chair comes in black and white takes racism out of the debate, as far as I’m concerned. Forniphilia is human furniture. If only women are depicted as sex slaves in this collection, then that’s something to debate about.

    • Concerned Citizen

      No, there’s no need for debate on sexist or racist grounds. If you want debate, join a club where you can learn to debate properly.

    • Naimit

      I’m not sure how these new, black editions magically sweep racism off the table. That said, I think there’s plenty of room for both racism and misogyny on top of the human sex slave table.

  • SiberianBeard

    There is no criminal penalty for homosexuality in the Russian Federation while Texas (USA) has.

    • simontexas

      There has been no criminality for homosexuality in the entire U.S. since 2003; a judicial movement that started in Texas!

  • Concerned Citizen

    You speak of homophonic as if it were a bad thing. Why is that? The rest of the comments are simply prejudicial.

  • john

    Yes if a black girl sat on a white girl chair the ‘issue’ remains. The original furniture by Jones was questionable and generally ignored at the time. These remakes are particularly sad because the supporting thesis is clearly of white supremacy.

    These pieces should be categorised not as art but as trite titillation; nevertheless damaging to our collective wellbeing. These ‘remakes’ are not art, they are what we expect from people with too much money and the propensity to exploit everything. The same could be said of Hip hop videos and porn. We need to recover humanity in art.

  • Troy

    Do you know what’s outrageous? That no one is speaking out against Russia’s vicious homophobic laws and their ongoing contribution to the violence in Syria. Seriously people, priorities!

  • Kelso

    Anyone seen the episode of South Park where Chef goes mad because the children don’t see a problem with the flag of south park, (white men hanging a black man). It transpires that the kids weren’t racist and only saw people hanging another person.

    I feel that this is what happened here, the woman was just sitting on a woman. Who cares about the colour. Okay, I appreciate that it can have racist connotations, but if racist groups keep drawing attention how can we move on? I agree some people will continue to be racist but jumping on everything doesn’t make things better, it makes things worse. We should only be talking about the art (or lack of) in this image. We need to move on or we will never get rid of racism.

    • Naimit

      “but if racist groups keep drawing attention how can we move on?”

      By context, I take it you meant to say racially sensitive or anti-racist groups. Also? WOW.

      To answer your remarkably dense question, we can’t move on until there is no racism left to draw attention to. The solution to a pernicious and evil legacy is not to ignore it. Ignoring problems has never, in the entire history of the world, caused those problems to go away.

      Whether you realise this or not, your assertion that “we need to move on or we will never get rid of racism” is a comment only someone very ignorant, very entitled, or both could ever utter. Those who suffer from the abuses of racism do not have the luxury of ignoring it so you don’t have to think about it anymore.

      “We should only be talking about the art (or lack of) in this image.”

      Art is a reflection of the world, not magically separate from it. Good art mirrors the world in a thought provoking manner. Bad art (often with a capital A) pretends it is above and outside of the world people actually live in, floating about in a magical, escapist realm where history doesn’t exist and resonances shouldn’t be acknowledged.

      Deprived of context, we *can’t talk about art, either in general or with this chair in particular.

  • LArns

    Great article explaining why this is so offensive. Check your privilege: http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2014/01/dear-white-people-stop-telling-us-racist/

  • Kat

    I’ve been following this “scandal” for the last few days, comments included – being Russian that’s easy to do.

    And, honestly, there’s a lot of things I don’t understand.

    Firstly, why anyone would look at this from a perspective that is anything other than Russian? There’s a few important points to be made here.
    To look at this from a Russian perspective, you’ll have to understand that your world-view, and more so your understanding of history is very different to that of a Russian. For example – we’ve never had slavery in the American / British / French sense. We had our form of slavery, but that was masters over peasants, all same race, no one holds a grudge anymore.

    Historically, did we have anything to do with enslaving blacks? No. Should we feel ashamed because some other whites, in other countries, did it? No.

    As a Russian and being white (white Russian, if you will), I have no historical obligation to treat black people in any special way. They are, in fact, equal to me. No worse and, this is important, no better.
    Which is, essentially, tolerance and equality. I might as well go as far as to say that in this aspect I’m way more tolerant than most of the people who have commented prior to me.

    Many western countries boasting about their equality don’t seem to understand how they’re turning somewhat absurd. Blacks speak badly of whites? No problem, go ahead. The other way round? You’re racist scum. And it doesn’t matter what the conversation is actually about – it gets viewed in colours anyway, not in who’s right or wrong. That, to me, is the true face of racism.

    To me it doesn’t matter whether the chair-woman is white or black. I don’t think in those terms. It’s a woman sitting on a woman. Essentially, it’s a person sitting on a person. How can you say anyone else is racist, if what you do is pick out a person’s skin colour as the main attribute and scream about it. You’re obviously the one being racist (and also a hypocrite).

    In the same way, returning to what I’ve written above, I don’t feel the shame in what other white people have done at some point in history, because that’s not my history. Sure, we share the same tone of skin. But what does that matter when we’re entirely different, with different nationalities and with our own stories of glory or failures? Does a white Russian sitting on a black-woman chair mean anything? No.

    So that’s the first point. The second is, for people pointing out how we’re well behind in social equality and whatnot, yes, there are issues. But then, when American women were only dreaming of equality, the Soviet Union had already allowed them to vote. Which is not to say they should have been restricted before, but the soviets were definitely a lot more progressive than the west in this aspect. Sexism and the fight for women rights has been close to none for almost a century and not because things were going badly. On the contrary. So, honestly, every foreign ‘expert’ on the Russian tolerance situation should try harder.

    And finally, about the situation overall. It’s an art-piece. She’s a gallerist. No one has been talking about the artist for three days straight, though I bet he must’ve sat on the chair as some point too (imagine that, a white man on a black woman!). It’s obviously art that actually speaks about sexism, which is by far much more extreme in this piece and in this version, racism. So how did a gallerist sitting on it make the public flip out and forget all about the fact that this is in fact art talking about the same issue? This is beyond me. Maybe the great lesson here is that you shouldn’t sit on art? I don’t know.

    • Ivan

      Being Russian too I totally agree with everything you said earlier! Living in London for the past 4 years has made me realise how world sees Russia and how everyone has something bad to say about it. We both know that Russia is not a perfect place, there is no such thing as perfect place on Earth, everyone has their own problems but this hate towards Russia is getting on my nerves. How can people judge Russians without even seeing from our perspective? It’s disappointing how many ignorant people are out there.

    • Creamy

      Zhukova may be Russian (Jewish actually) but she was educated in the US. She knows exactly what slavery and MLK Jr. Day are.

  • Rae Claire

    I think:

    1. It is offensive-managing to be simultaneously racist and sexist.
    2. It is also art, so shouldn’t be censored or put into a bonfire.
    3. I won’t be buying one and would probably not want to be friends with anyone who did.

    • stuart gardyne

      Regarding your second point, is it somehow acceptable for ‘art’ to be sexist and racist?

      • Rae Claire

        I said I think it’s racist and sexist. I understand others may see it differently. I think a whole lot of things are abominations that others regard as normal and everyday, and I know the reverse is true as well. This object does not to my mind constitute a gross violation of human or civil rights, and therefore should be tolerated by those who find it offensive. We can’t have everything exactly to our liking or lights. I would hope any adult who knows a child who is exposed to this would use the occasion to have an age-appropriate discussion on the topics raised by this thread.

  • bnh_b

    The picture alone is controversial, to say the least. However, in the broader context and for the art connoisseurs familiar with Allen Jones and forniphilia, this is art, and art is nothing if not controversial.

    The artist has freedom of expression. Shouldn’t that same freedom of expression also extend to the consumer and those who support the artwork? We may not necessarily agree with the artwork but to prevent others from appreciating the artwork would be hypocritical.

  • bnh_b

    To view this only from a Russian perspective, and to isolate yourself and Russia from the rest of the world is naive. Globalisation and the internet is fast connecting all corners of the world.

    If you wish to remove yourself from this and shut yourself and Russia from the rest of the world again, then don’t use the internet or any other forum that serves to connect you to the rest of the world.

    However, if you accept being part of the global community, then these global issues need to be taken into consideration. It might not be an issue in Russia, but it is a very sensitive issue in most parts of the world.

  • guarino

    If she was sitting on Rem Koolhaas we would not be having this conversation.

    • cubert

      Maybe she should sit on Kanye West?

  • Rage of Nations

    I see nothing wrong with this.

  • Art & furniture lover

    Despite her skin colour, as long as women continue behaving provocatively and or promiscuously in this world, it’s going to be called out and represented in the art world – likewise for men – then it’s reinterpreted and perhaps misconstrued.

    Perhaps if the gallery owner/socialite was a man people would label him as a sexist/chauvinistic curator?

    (Big deal. We live in a world of billions of people, as long as he doesn’t come into power!)

    I’m glad Dasha Zukhova and her chair has acquired media exposure in 2014. It’s time to see. Have our ideas and reactions evolved? Are we still confronted with the same issues that people were in the 70′s?

    Generally have we become more insecure, overly critical and pessimistic about our world, women and race? Do women today have self esteem? Do they have power? Who is this artist representing? Who feels degraded? Why?

    People need to remain open minded.

    Alarmingly, it seems to me, narrow mindedness has been brought to the forefront by a furniture piece like this, and exacerbates ideas of racism and degradation.

    In my eyes, the object and subject is quite self explanatory. In addition, it involves all the design elements and principles! There is no mystery about why this subject has been reported on.

    The Allen Jones remake certainly provokes an interesting discussion. To speculate the flip side of what has previously been mentioned; who’s to say that the piece doesn’t represent a woman in charge?

    Look at those boots and leather shorts! A woman that age, can surely dress herself and could just as easily be acting out her own fantasy; sexy in an idle and humorous manner. Potentially equal to any man’s fantasy, even the artist’s, no? Each to their own.

    In my opinion it sure beats a sculpture of any lady in a 50′s style dress, with small feet standing over the sink or ready to take a coat!

  • TeaOnSunday

    Hey Linda, what exactly is your experience with Russia? Is it just what you read in the news? Have you actually been there, travelled around, met locals? Russians don’t have the same racist history with black people that white Americans do. They had slavery, yes, but of their own people, not of blacks. Russians don’t really care.

    Because they were behind the Iron Curtain for so long, they didn’t get exposed to many different people and didn’t get to travel. Is that their fault? And despite not being able to travel, there were quite a few African students in the major cities (thanks to Soviet indoctrination programs) and they were always treated with respect, because they were guests and because they came from someplace outside the hellhole of the Soviet Union.

    The only people in Russia who “don’t get it” are right-wing skinheads who are a fairly recent (post USSR) development. But they exist in every country in the world.

    So please, learn some history and don’t project your American sensibilities on others.