Sunday 19 November 2017

When it comes to art, outraged tweeters are missing bigger picture

Controversial photo is art – and art is not meant to further our vision of social justice, writes Donal Lynch

Criticism: Dasha Zhukova in the controversial image that was used to accompany an interview with the 32-year-old partner of billionaire Roman Abramovich by Russian style website Buro 24/7
Criticism: Dasha Zhukova in the controversial image that was used to accompany an interview with the 32-year-old partner of billionaire Roman Abramovich by Russian style website Buro 24/7
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

The journalist Joseph Harker once wrote that media rows about racist imagery "while irritating and possibly offensive, are as relevant to racism as a cough is to tuberculosis". Why? Because they provide a safe, manageable space for debate on issues of race that affect millions of people every day.

In the US and the UK, black men end up in prison more frequently than white men. In Ireland, incidences of race discrimination almost doubled during 2013. But all of these facts seem too complex to lend themselves to glib soundbites or snappy copy. Far easier (and more entertaining) to discuss the behaviour of a black celebrity or the impact of a photograph in a fashion magazine than the bigger picture of race politics.

All of this went through my mind last week as the controversy about the picture of Roman Abramovich's girlfriend, Dasha Zhukova, went nuclear. The photograph, which was published on the website Buro 24/7, depicts the poised and fragile-looking Zhukova seated on a mannequin that resembles a bound black woman.

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