Forced Africanism: Valentino SS16 Remarks

January saw the launch of Spring/Summer campaigns from top designers all over the world. One of such was Valentino, who took to Kenya to shoot their campaign. In this shoot, people from the Maasai tribe of Kenya were seen jumping and doing other interesting poses. In our attitude of calling a spade a spade, the Maasai people were used as PROPS for this photoshoot for Valentino. We took to Instagram to share the picture, followed by our thoughts. One conversation stood out and below, I'll provide a transcript. You can also click the link here to read it directly.

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Image: Fashion Gone Rogue

Memkoh: 

What are your thoughts on this shot of the Kenyan Maasai tribe being used as props or as someone on Twitter said, "exotic pets" for Valentino's SS16 Collection? My opinion: Why bother? Just save the flight ticket money if you're going to travel to Kenya and say you're representing Africa. Then probably give the natives a dollar and laugh at the success of your "low budget" shoot as they unknowingly cheese away, unaware of the cultural misrepresentation they just fostered.. Urghhhh! I'm back to this place where you have to fight everyday.#culturalmisrepresentation #Valentino#ValentinoSS16

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Image: Fashion Gone Rogue

Artisticmindlessness: 

Ah, I don't often disagree with you, but in this, I do. Perhaps just a little. Naturally, I do see your point and I completely get your perspective of the belittling of a culture by reducing them to props. However, I think what you call misrepresentation or simply poor representation here is simply the highlighting of a sliver of a culture that the world is familiar with. But more than that, I think that the point of this shoot is to take a piece of the beauty of a culture and use it to enhance fashion that may have been otherwise lacklustre. Was it probably a "chicken-change" shoot? Yes. But I think that is only a point beneath a point beneath a point. When our countries and cultures are brushed aside and squashed beneath the omniscience of the western, we seem not to exist at all. And now, in a way, we are being included; we are being represented as a culture that embodies an essence of the beauty that Valentino is trying to sell. Fashion is becoming more dynamic, more far-reaching and yes, this is mostly a marketing ploy, but I think one also has to see the other side of these things. How much would this picture draw your eyes without the gorgeously regal Masai tribe? Would it have been ideal if they at least had an African model in the lead? Absolutely! However, I believe that the progress must not be brushed aside, because only a few decades ago, in this photo, this tribe would literally have been reduced to lying at the feet of this woman. Or worse. So, I do get your point, but I think this is more multifaceted than you have put it. And we can't dismiss the victories, because otherwise, what's the point of any of it? In my opinion. Buuuut, I must add, that perhaps I haven't been fully exposed to the complete extents of these sorts of things in the fashion industry, so I may be coming in from a totally rose-coloured perspective.

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Image: Fashion Gone Rogue

Memkoh: 

And I love your take on the matter! There's truly always two sides. In the defense of everyone who feels this way, including the website that called attention to this, it's that mentality of "oh at least we're including you" which you duly noted in a more respectful way. Yes, we truly have come a long way from the days where they would have asked the Massai people to lie around her and kiss her feet, but we can't have that kind of patronizing look on the matter. Else we'll have to wait a while for a full inclusion. Every 100 years, they'll change something say including one extra model. Are we just going to sit around and say "thank you?". I think not. So notwithstanding the fact that things are getting better and we're now included on the premise of "diversity", we should still speak up when there's a problem somewhere. It's that constant push I believe that has brought the changes you noted. There was an excuse back then. Way back. Now there's none. *include one extra black model for example* (Not that I particularly care about the race of the models, but it's still an issue that should not be overlooked)

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Artisticmindlessness:

I completely get your point, but the sad fact is, reality moves much slower than our desires. And though we may argue against it, tirelessly, these things take time. I guess I'm sort of acknowledging the time that it's taken to get to this point, as well as the beauty of what a difference inclusions like this mean and make. And I suppose I often find the insistence on being a percentage, or rather, meeting a quota more belittling, but that's just me, I guess. (Also, you might enjoy Master of None, episode 3 or so I think; this diversity and inclusion issue is discussed a little differently). Okay, bye now 🙋🏾 P.S. It's a really interesting discussion, so if you wanna talk some more, feel free to FaceTime me 😊

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Image: Fashion Gone Rogue

Memkoh:

Nope, you're making a very valid point from an inside perspective on advertising and merchandising. You understand that things need to be worked up the ropes of internal bureaucracy in these companies, because shareholders' money is at stake. You understand all that and the reality of that truth is hitting me, jargons we, the masses are not interested in hearing. It's about the numbers. It's about sparking conversations like this that gets them more clicks and more sales. It's about...urghhh! No, they need to make it right by all of us!!!😒 @artisticmindlessnessI'll call you tonight. I want this to be a blog post so we can work on it from two perspectives or lift this dialogue😃

Artisticmindlessness:

Oh yay!💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾 Adios for now!

We had a great conversation, as you could tell and we had an even better conversation a week later. You've read most of it above but we came to this conclusion:

  1. The fashion industry has come a long way and we (though grudgingly) have to applaud the steps taken thus far.
  2. At the same time, there is little to no excuse for misrepresentation of a culture.
  3. Regardless, these characteristics of African countries - the wildlife, natural scenery, etc. - are our identity and just like the Eiffel Tower is associated with Paris and they embrace it, we need to embrace that people look forward to visit African countries to see the Safaris.
  4. Overall, everyone can do better. We can stop calling each other out on salient stuff and stay fixated on the future.

It's been a few weeks since that conversation and I was too busy taking it all in that I didn't write, plus you've read our conversation thread above so why not leave a comment with your thoughts? Are you pro- this is the African they know or are you pro- Google about the culture of the country you're visiting before you hop on the flight?

Part 2 of this post will be up next where we'll explore a shoot that truly represents the continent and all of its emerging talent. For now, here's a sneak peak.

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Image: Models

You definitely want to be back to read it.

Stay Glued! Memkoh