Blackface has become a major point of contention in the fashion industry recently.
The tradition of blackface began as theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows to mock African-American culture. By painting their faces black, reddening the lip and wearing obnoxious accessories supposedly associated with “blackness,” white actors would entertain audiences with outrageously racist shows of ‘comedy.’
Blackface since then has largely died as a socially acceptable form of entertainment. For that reason, whenever instances of blackface reappear in the media the question is automatically raised, is this an innocent form of artistic expression or a reference to the prejudiced roots of the minstrel history from which blackface was born.
Time and time again we have had to raise this question with regard to the fashion industry’s blackface-esque charades. French Vogue and V magazine and hit TV show ‘America’s Next Top Model’ have all experimented with black paint and white models over the past year to the tune of much criticism and debate. The newest fashion upstart to grab hold of the potentially racist blackface reigns is Paris-based Mongolian designer Tsolmandakh Munkhuu. The emerging designer covered and photographed her models in black paint from head to toe for the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography in the South of France this past weekend. The result? According to A Shaded View of Fashion, she was given a prestigious fashion award for her collection which included an all black repertoire of looks, skin included.
Some members of the press are referring to the painted models in Munkhuu’s show as an exhibit in “blackface.” Accordingly the question must once again be asked; art or racism?
Some sites, like BV.com suggest that Munkhuu’s show may have been more of a tribute to Viktor & Rolf, another fashion duo that got its start at the festival:
Dutch avant garde design duo Viktor & Rolf, who won the Hyères award when they were starting out, have also painted their models completely black for their shock-inducing runway shows for nearly a decade. Perhaps Munkhuu was just playing homage.
Viktor & Rolf
Still, is it OK that blackface is a continuing tradition in the fashion industry or should it be a decaying remnant of the pre-civil rights era?
Also, check out some other cases of possible fashion industry blackface: