Miroslava Duma Issues an Apology for Discriminatory Photo, but Is It Enough?

Yesterday, fashion site Buro 24/7 celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.'s b-day by releasing a highly discriminatory photo of Garage magazine editor Dasha Zhukova perched atop a chair designed to look like a bound, nude black woman. The backlash was strong, of course. There is just no other way to construe an image like that. It conveys white supremacy in no uncertain terms.

Buro 24/7 creator Miroslava Duma released an apology letter for the publication of the image. The letter attempts to explain away this glaring error, stating that the image was in no way supposed to invoke ideas of racism or white supremacy, but should have simply been viewed as "a piece of art." Because art can never, ever be racist, right?

Her apology is condescending and makes the empty claim that she and the Buro 24/7 team believe everyone is equal. It's hard to reconcile that alongside the publication of this photo, especially on MLK day. And Duma's claim that it's just art is meaningless. After all, art is a powerful way to influence culture.

The chair is a re-working of a piece designed by British artist Allen Jones. The original, rendered in 1969, was of a white woman. According to a statement by Dasha Zhukova, the chair used in the image was created by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard as "one of a series that reinterprets art historical works from artist Allen Jones as a commentary on gender and racial politics."

Standing alone, the chair could make a powerful statement about the way that black women (or all women) are shackled and degraded by society. But when you place a white woman in that chair, wearing a crisp button-down in stark contrast to the bare flesh of the mannequin she sits above, you change the message entirely. That image says that white women are on top and that they deserve to be. That image is racist, no matter how Duma might try to explain it away.

If Buro 24/7 had wanted to make a commentary about women in society, the photo should have depicted the white version of the chair. The difference in skin color between Zhukova and the mannequin in the final image distracted from what Duma claimed was the goal of the picture. And the fact that it is art simply does not excuse the mistake. Duma's non-pology is not enough to negate the damage done.