The Eku thingy thingy thingy... and stuff

Okay. Okay. Afam in the house. Blogger on duty. Something's come up so I've roused myself to blog.

There's this quite popular television personality, actress and model called Eku Edewor. She's lovely fun and generally great. We have deep intellectual discussions on histogram from time to time (well, it happened once. We spoke about Je suis Charlie Hebdo). I like her I really do. Last week Sunday, she shot a series of photographs for Thisday style with Lynxx who I don't know all that well. In fact I don't know him at all, but this doesn't matter because he wasn't in any of the controversial shots.

When I saw the images,  I moved on real quick. As in looked away and never looked back. I'm all for art and everything, but here what you have in the second image is a trail of poor looking black people who have seen suffering, following a white woman. Don't give me context and don't give me tradition. Look at the images. That is what they are. Yes, I know that Eku's a mixed race Nigerian, but that doesn't stop the images from looking racist. Some idiots said,

 "Eku's Nigerian and the dark skinned people in the picture are Nigerian, so how can it be racist?"

Are you an idiot? 

I mean, you must be to think that!

I'm literally baffled. 

Let me put it in a slightly different context. 

Well they're both American so it isn't racism is it? 

Yes smile wide and say that to Trayvon's mother. 

So we've analysed the images on the first level and they're racist, because they depict the most popular sort of racism which is black subservience. Yes, I still know that Eku's mixed race, but, when you take out the fact that it's Eku, and throw in an English girl that looks just like that, you get global annoyed levels of racism, not just Nigerian annoyed levels of racism. 

Next we've got the cultural argument. In Eku's words,

  "An image depicts younger members of society helping a young bride as she walks the short distance to her new home.They carry small cases, some are relatives, wrapped in newly printed fabric to represent the brides family.Other images reveal the beauty of our attire, our traditional dress, Jewellery and the beauty of our landscape."

But, and there is a but, that doesn't stop them from being racist. It's inevitable. It's like black face. We've learned our lesson about blackface. If you're white, or white-looking, or mixed race and you use black face it is never alright no matter what you may be saying about it. That's just what it is. And  the fabric they're wrapped in doesn't look new, or rich. Unfortunately or fortunately we live in a world of political correctness. There are certain things that you cannot say or cannot do without being thought of as being offensive. No matter what you do you will offend somebody, so look at what you create and prepare your defence when the storm hits. Don't act surprised when people don't like what you've done. You should have known what you were doing when you were doing it. 

If your heritage is cannibalism, should you depict that in art, and not expect some sort of negative feedback? 

The fact of the matter is the pictures are offensive on so many levels. I shall list them out for you.

Why are those black children carrying the bags of a white lady? There are two problems here, first off they're children and second off they're black. Like they are really dark. For the record not all black people are that dark, but for editorial purposes they went and found the blackest of us all, and took the pictures. They're striking, but you can't ask anyone to not be offended.

Why are they all guys? Are they saying something about female domination? Yes, some men will be offended by this.

Why are they on the beach? Is she leading them to a slave ship?

Why do they all look so poor?  In practical terms the sheaths of cloth that they're wearing are N1,000 at most, but an iconic invanity dress could cost over N500,000 and those LV cases don't come cheap either, so aren't the images insensitive?

I'm actually quite annoyed now. You don't just get high off your own supply of awesome like this. At some stage in the creative process someone should have said, they could be thought of as this, or this is what I'm seeing. What are you seeing? Then when you learn that the art direction was by Ade Okelarin, and that the shoot was styled by Kessiana (Eku's sister), and that the concept came from Eclipse Brand Agency, you just aren't left feeling particularly confident, because somebody should have said something, so that they could have prepared for the twitter onslaught today.

I have no problems with the images. I like that we're talking about race, racism, colourism, elitism, and several other isms. But you can't demand that people see things the way you do. You cannot be surprised when you find out that people are offended. So please don't apologise, it's probably too late for an apology anyway. Just come up with a statement about how you really wanted to provoke a discussion about heritage in the context of race, because we haven't dealt with those things properly yet. We need to talk more about these things, you know?

People say the reaction would have been completely different if the model was dark, and that is true, but that is the world we live in. If you want your work to be universally acclaimed, then you must first make sure that it is politically correct. If you don't care, then do as you like.

But in all of this, veer away from Eku. The firing of shots should go in the following order.

Thisday Style for unleashing the dragon without a disclaimer (na you cause d somtin)

All the other blogs - Bellanaija, Linda Ikeji etc for sharing the pictures without thinking hmmmm this could be problematic.

Everybody else involved. 

When the news is horrible, always behead the messenger before you assassinate the master. 

Lastly, I can't deal with anyone who calls it harmless art. I can't. Art isn't supposed to be harmless, it's supposed to be provocative. Also don't call it heritage when the most obvious thing is race relations. The lesson is, if it looks like a ginger headed step child, then call it a ginger headed step child. Don't call it something that it doesn't look like, because most of us aren't that daft. 

Happy Days,


Onyxsta Bleurgh said...

I'd only heard of a "heritage" shoot, but hadn't seen the images. I have to be honest. I scrolled past your intro, eyeballed (yes, that's how I choose to describe my actions) the image and hungrily ate up your analysis. It ring true 85% (bar the issues of female domination...abeg! Get with the program, we are taking over lol). This is indeed provocative art and has sparked conversation (amidst controversy of course), but has put them on the map nonetheless.

I can see nothing else but classist and racist undertones. Perhaps they intended something else? But it begs the question what "heritage" they meant to portray?


Anonymous said...

95% true! Best write up I have read concerning this

Mercie said...

While i'm one to roll my eyes whenever people use the 'racist card', I can't help but see said undertones in the pictures. If the theme was racism then that would have been different but for it to be one thing while seeming to depict something else is confusing.

IMO, she shouldn't have given any explanation (she was just the model, yes?). The concept creators and art director should have done so. However, saying that the point of the pics was to capture a not so great period of our history which we have been able to transcend, would probably have been a better explanation.

That being said, I actually like the pics in the context of art.. I feel like they tell a story (however painful). I'm drawn into the pic and find myself wondering what's happening there and asking myself questions like: Who are these kids? Who is the lady? Where are they? Where are they going? What are they thinking?

But Afam, 'Female domination'??? Come on..that's taking it a bit too far now!

Nice post :)

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