On the MLK holiday Monday, commemorating the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., the girlfriend of Russian multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich was pictured on a fashion web site seated on a chair designed to look like a lifelike, half-nude black woman.
Dasha Zhukova, 32, is the longtime domestic partner of the 47-year old investor believed to be worth almost $15 billion, making him the 50th-richest person in the world. To the general public, Abramovich is best-known as the free-spending owner of England’s Chelsea Football Club.
Zhukova is also the mother of two children by Abramovich, who has five more from a previous marriage. On top of that, she is a former model turned fashion editor who operates the high-gloss fashion mag Garage.
She is perhaps best known in the United States for being the recipient of a rather generous gift from her boyfriend, the world’s largest private yacht — thought to cost about a billion dollars — which docked in a harbor off Midtown Manhattan recently.
Perhaps as a Russian national, she could be expected to overlook the significance of the MLK holiday. Except that Zhukova grew up in California and graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara.
But on any day, the photograph of Zhukova sitting on what appeared to be a contorted, sexually objectified black woman in bondage would have rightly caused outrage.
Here is the photo, that appeared on a fashion blog called Buro 24/7. The site quickly deleted the shot after a storm of extremely understandable anger.
One of the first responses came from another fashion writer, as quoted in The Daily Mail. Fashion Bomb Daily editor Claire Sulmers said she was shocked by the incredibly callous image, describing it as “‘White dominance and superiority, articulated in a seemingly serene yet overtly degrading way.”
On her blog, she added, “The art and fashion industries are the few bastions of society where blatant racism and ignorance are given the greenlight in the name of creativity.”
Historian and author Alex von Tunzelmann, quoted in the Mirror newspaper, wrote, “Even in the grim, tasteless world of fashion photography, this revolting racist image published on MLK Day! – stands out.”
Poet and football (i.e. soccer) commentator Musa Okwonga commented, “The slave chair is the perfect metaphor for how black women are treated by the fashion industry.”
Those responses are just a small sample of the reaction to the bizarre MLK Holiday posting.
But in fairness to Zhukova, she also objected to running the photo on the MLK Holiday and said that its publication was “completely out of context” and was originally intended as “a commentary on gender and racial politics,” she said — adding, “I utterly abhor racism.”
The photograph appears to be inspired by this 1969 work by sculptor Allen Jones.
One could argue that the Jones piece was not racist — but was sexist. But Zhukova’s MLK Holiday shot, while perhaps “out of context,” certainly appeared to be both.