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Author Topic: Questionable cover photo
Babbling_Jenn
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posted 16 June 2006 03:38 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm wondering if anyone out there has an opinion on the questionable cover photograph for Defending Our Dreams. See cover here.

It is a photograph of the face of a woman of colour with white paint obscuring her skin.

My take on this is that she is being "whitewashed", but perhaps there is another way to interpret this image.

I contacted AWID -- the creator of the book -- and there was no response.

Are there others out there who think this image is both concerning and potentially racist? Or am I just going overboard?


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indiemuse
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posted 16 June 2006 04:19 PM      Profile for indiemuse     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
A quick read through of the book synopsis seems to indicate that this book is written by some pretty radical and outspoken femminists, whom also are of various ethnic backgrounds.

quote:
Shamillah Wilson has gained extensive networking, coordination and communication experience from her time at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town (UCT). After seven years at UCT, she joined the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) in South Africa for a short contract period as Provincial Manager with responsibility for public education and networking among other things. From the CGE she joined the Speakers' Forum of South African Legislatures.

quote:
AN ACTIVIST, in popular perception, is one who is constantly battling the burning issues of the day in a practical and rational way. And a poet, we presume, is one who lives in a fantastic, imaginary land, far from the cares of workaday world.

But Anasuya Sengupta — a poet, an activist, and a social scientist — strikes a different note. Recently in the news for her poem, Silence, figures in Hillary Clinton's memoir, Living History, Anasuya reflects both the passion and courage vital for an activist and the creative energy and vision that mark a poet.


My guess is the cover is a political/artistic statement about race and or femminism, designed to get a readers attention and stirr up discusion. I'd have to read further to see for sure where the author is coming from, but for now, no I don't find it offensive.


From: The exception to every rule . . . | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged
Babbling_Jenn
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posted 16 June 2006 05:35 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
If that is the case, I'm surprised that there is no comment or explanation in the book about it.

It seems to stand alone -- and I think it's pretty dangerous to put an image like that on the cover with no explanation.

Also, despite the wide range of experiences of the writers and editors, it is possible that the cover photo was not chosen or even confirmed by them.


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jeff house
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posted 16 June 2006 06:52 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You can't tell a book by its cover....
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nonsuch
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posted 16 June 2006 10:28 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hard to tell on that little picture, but it looks like a pretty good cover design to me.
A woman's face, half hidden, painted white.
Is the ethnic origin of the woman significant? Possibly. Is the paint significant? Possibly. Is it meant to illustrate something? I don't know.

But how is it racist?
I just don't see that.


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DrConway
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posted 17 June 2006 05:00 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What is it with people that seem to think nobody has a brain and knows how to use it to contextualize an image?
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otter
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posted 19 June 2006 09:10 AM      Profile for otter        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
If you saw Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine you might agree that there is a culture of fear being promoted. That said, for such a fearful perspective to succeed you need a lot of people willing to see conspiracies and sinister meaning behind every little thing that pops up.
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Babbling_Jenn
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posted 19 June 2006 03:53 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I wasn't implying a sinister meaning or a sneaky plot.

I think it is a little presumptuous to think that the reader will automatically understand what the meaning of the photograph is.

I, personally, don't feel that we can dismiss a latent racism in the cover. Just as others here automatically think that the intentions must have been highly thoughtful and anti-racist.

If this is a good cover, why is that? What do you think it means?


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Babbling_Jenn
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posted 19 June 2006 03:56 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Oh, and one other thing. The book does not mention the photograph within its pages. Nor does it take on the topic of whitewashing issues important to people of colour. It is more about projects taking place than theories on race/oppression.

That is partially why the cover is so curious.


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nonsuch
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posted 19 June 2006 06:00 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Why is it a good design?
It's arresting, intriguing; the colours are serious but not quite somber; the division of text, picture and negative space are well balanced.
I'm not certain of this, because i can't see it in actual size.

Anyway, about the picture. The word "whitewashing" is yours; it wouldn't pop into my head spontaneously. It's quite possible that the designer and publisher didn't think of it, either.
My first impression was: ceremonial makeup. The photo may not be staged for this cover - or may not be staged at all, but come from archives. The woman's expression is difficult to assess; it may be wariness of the photographer.
Publishers do usually give design and photo credits on the inside flap. Have you tried contacting the artist?


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DrConway
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posted 19 June 2006 09:37 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Babbling_Jenn:
I think it is a little presumptuous to think that the reader will automatically understand what the meaning of the photograph is.

And *I* think it's a little presumptuous of YOU to think that YOU are the ONLY one who miraculously has the proper interpretation of the photograph.

You DO know what contextualizing an image means, yes?


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deadduck
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posted 20 June 2006 06:13 AM      Profile for deadduck     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'd hate to see a world where any form of art requires a typed explanation to justify itself against (mis)interpretation. I think that would miss the point of the whole endeavour. While I think babbling_jenn's intentions are noble I think we need to be careful about arbitrarily attacking works of art based on our own interpretations. There’s so much in the world that is blatantly racist that surely we don’t need to imagine it in places where it likely doesn’t exist.

And surely art is one place where we need to be especially lenient. I’m with those who request that a *charity* in interpretation should be followed -- a writer/artist should be assumed to be sincere unless you can prove otherwise.


Generally speaking when I read history I tend to side with the people do the painting/writing/picture taking than the ones who censor, even when what they paint/write/photograph I don’t understand or agree with. As well I tend to distrust regimes (not that you’re a regime babbling_jenn) who feel it is their job to interpret/judge/censor/condemn the works/lives of artists.

Attempts at tolerance and understanding help eliminate injustices, as well as help us learn through artsitic works.


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Michelle
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posted 20 June 2006 06:20 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
DrC, why are you being so aggressive towards Babbling_Jenn? Has she personally insulted you by raising this issue? Back off a bit, please. You can discuss this without being so in-your-face about it - the tone of the thread thus far doesn't really warrant it.
From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbling_Jenn
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posted 22 June 2006 11:42 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I don't think that anyone sides with a regime when they critique and question art. Art often is the leader of progress in many societies -- but sometimes it also reflects other, less progressive parts.

I could elaborate on non-progressive artists here, but that's not really the point of the thread. We could open one up elsewhere (perhaps Michelle can point to a place where it would be more appropriate).

From the moment I saw the cover I was suspicious of it. I felt this way because one of the people involved with the actual making of the book was furious when she saw it. Apparently, she had not seen the cover before it went to print.

This story alerted me to the potential racist readings of the photograph.

I e-mailed the publisher (AWID) asking for a response to these allegations or a contact for the photographer, but I didn't get one.

Out of this discussion, I'm wondering why everyone is sure the image is PC and well-thought through.

I understand that some of you think I'm jumping to conclusions (and yes, I did introduce the word whitewash, because that's what it looks like to me), but I think these types of images need to be discussed.

On another note: I don't think I am censoring when I question the motives, intentions and meanings of art. Isn't that the basis of art criticism and the motivation behind art altogether? Simply because art is art doesn't mean that it is flawless or should go unquestioned.

Personally, I think it is healthy to look at representations of women -- and especially women of colour -- in art. Women are a group that has spent more time being objectified than engaged by artistic renderings and I think it is healthy to be skeptical of them.


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Boinker
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posted 24 June 2006 06:58 AM      Profile for Boinker   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I do not find the cover picture offensive. I find it somewhat provocative but only after I read some of the commentary.

Many African and indigenous people's paint their faces. In Art body painting and tattooing is seen as an emblem of protest against the bland.

If you think of the leading figures in the media of what is known as "feminisim". They are characteristically "WASPish" and Nort American like Gloria Steinam.But the debate is framed in the North American bougoise sense.


But consider the Canadian Feminist Homa Arjomand the Iranian feminist opposed to the sharia courts. Her face is not available on the internet .

Most likely for good reason...


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Tommy_Paine
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posted 25 June 2006 06:04 AM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think the cover was designed to create "buzz".

...snickers...

Author to publisher: "Get me banned at Rabble!"

It's provocative and evocative, and it could mean many different things to different people. Nice gimmick.


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unionist
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posted 25 June 2006 06:55 AM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
All right. As a public service, I'm posting a decent-size image of the cover here so that babblers can decide what they think. I should mention that I personally see nothing to get excited about.

PS: What is the definition of "woman of colour"?

[ 25 June 2006: Message edited by: unionist ]


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Wilf Day
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posted 25 June 2006 07:27 AM      Profile for Wilf Day     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Babbling_Jenn:
It is a photograph of the face of a woman of colour with white paint obscuring her skin.

If it matters, my first impression on seeing the picture was of a woman of colour scarred by a failed attempt at whitewashing. It said "read this book: here are global feminist voices whom white western culture could not surmerge."

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bigcitygal
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posted 25 June 2006 07:47 AM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Babbling_Jenn, thanks for starting this thread.

I'm not surprised to hear that the authors/editors did not see or have a chance to approve/reject the cover art. And I'm also not surprised that the cover practically reiterates the issues raised by the authors in the book, beyond ironic if you ask me.

unionist, thanks for posting the larger version of the cover, as I couldn't see the detail in the version on babble, and the other online places I looked.

And yes, I agree with Babbling_Jenn's point that there is something to get excited / angry / enraged about. The cover is outrageous, racist and hugely problematic. Just to start, there's the literal whitewashing, the passivity of the woman of colour in the image, the notion that her face is beside the title "defending our dreams" as if the dreams of women of colour are to become white. And that's just to start.


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DrConway
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posted 25 June 2006 05:05 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Oh, for god's sake. I think my point stands re: overinterpretation.

[ 25 June 2006: Message edited by: DrConway ]


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M. Spector
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posted 25 June 2006 06:22 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I hate to play Emperor's New Clothes here, but I don't think she's really a "woman of colour" at all.
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Drinkmore
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posted 25 June 2006 06:49 PM      Profile for Drinkmore     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by bigcitygal:
Babbling_Jenn, thanks for starting this thread.

I'm not surprised to hear that the authors/editors did not see or have a chance to approve/reject the cover art. And I'm also not surprised that the cover practically reiterates the issues raised by the authors in the book, beyond ironic if you ask me.

unionist, thanks for posting the larger version of the cover, as I couldn't see the detail in the version on babble, and the other online places I looked.

And yes, I agree with Babbling_Jenn's point that there is something to get excited / angry / enraged about. The cover is outrageous, racist and hugely problematic. Just to start, there's the literal whitewashing, the passivity of the woman of colour in the image, the notion that her face is beside the title "defending our dreams" as if the dreams of women of colour are to become white. And that's just to start.


Is it common for authors/editors of a book not to see or to have a chance to approve/reject the cover art?


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bigcitygal
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posted 26 June 2006 04:56 AM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Drinkmore, from what I understand, if you're a known author, or an author published with a small press, or if a book is singly authored (not an edited collection, or anthology, etc) you are more likely to see and possibly give feedback to and approve the book cover. (I worked at an independent bookstore for years, I know many small publishers and authors both large and small. I'm also a published author myself).

Edited collections and anthologies, both fiction and non, altho my sense is that non-fiction, as this book is, are less likely to get author/editor approval.

Academic publishers, which I'm not sure if this is one, don't care as much about the covers, which makes sense: if you're into the topic it shouldn't matter what the cover is. If it's a book for a course, you'll buy it no matter what it looks like, etc.

Hopefully the first printing of this book will sell out and the second edition will have a new cover. Because from the online reviews I've read, the book sounds amazing.


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voice of the damned
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posted 26 June 2006 06:44 AM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
My interpretation would take into account that the woman's eyes and mouth are NOT covered by thw white make-up. So, while otherwise immersed in the dominant culture, the woman is seeing and speaking with her own eyes and her own voice, respectively.
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M. Spector
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posted 26 June 2006 09:25 AM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Drinkmore:
Is it common for authors/editors of a book not to see or to have a chance to approve/reject the cover art?
The real question is, is it common for independent, progressive (if not radical) book publishers to use outrageous, racist, or hugely problematic photographs on the covers of anthologies of international feminist writings, whether the authors/editors approve or not?

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Drinkmore
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posted 26 June 2006 06:48 PM      Profile for Drinkmore     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by M. Spector:
The real question is, is it common for independent, progressive (if not radical) book publishers to use outrageous, racist, or hugely problematic photographs on the covers of anthologies of international feminist writings, whether the authors/editors approve or not?

You're right. I thought I'd start slow - I'm kinda shy.


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Babbling_Jenn
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posted 26 June 2006 08:26 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by voice of the damned:
My interpretation would take into account that the woman's eyes and mouth are NOT covered by thw white make-up. So, while otherwise immersed in the dominant culture, the woman is seeing and speaking with her own eyes and her own voice, respectively.

I hope that you're right on that one. Her mouth is closed though. At least she looks back at the viewer and not away, which would make her even more silenced and objectified.

Thanks unionist for the enlarged image, it makes this discussion a lot easier.


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voice of the damned
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posted 26 June 2006 09:03 PM      Profile for voice of the damned     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I hope that you're right on that one. Her mouth is closed though.

But having her mouth open in a photograph probably woouldn't convey the idea of speaking, even if that's what she was supposed to be doing. Often, people photogrpahed with their mouths open just look kinda stupid, like they're standing their dumbstruck with nothing to say.

[ 26 June 2006: Message edited by: voice of the damned ]


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M. Spector
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posted 26 June 2006 10:05 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Particularly disturbing is the fact that the photo only shows one eye. In Jungian symbology this could suggest a lack of awareness or understanding on the woman's part. In a more literal interpretation it could be a partial inability to see or a visual defect, such as lack of depth perception. Loss of binocular vision decreases quality of life as well as life choices.

It could denote an occupational disability. According to the web site of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, August, 1996: "many occupations are not open to people who have good vision in one eye only." So this woman could be a poster-person for economic and social disadvantage.

And it is surely significant that not only is the eye we see her left one, but also her gaze is slightly averted to the left. Is there a sinister connotation to this? Is the picture telling us that women who take a leftist view of the world end up with egg on their face?

One really must question the motives of such a depiction on the cover of this book. There are many unambiguous photographs available of happy, smiling, uncomplicated, two-eyed women of colour who have no white goo on their faces, and who are not portrayed as being victims or as having flaws. I think the publisher owes us an explanation of why they chose this one. Until they do I will not be buying this or any of their other books.


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nonsuch
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posted 26 June 2006 11:00 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
bigcitygal:
quote:
Just to start, there's the literal whitewashing,

Do we know by whom the - actual, physical -whitewashing was done? No, we do not. We do not know whether she put the paint on herself or someone else did, or caused it to be done. We do not know for what reason or purpose it was done. We do not know how the subject feels about it.

quote:
the passivity

It's only part of her face. How do we know from so little that she is passive? What's she supposed to be doing? We have no idea. We do not know whether action or inaction is appropriate to how she should feel in the circumstances, because we do not know the circumstances.

quote:
of the woman

More accurately, girl. If woman, only since about last Thursday.

quote:
of colour

What colour, exactly? This has been asked before, but not answered. Does anyone know? Because it could be decisive to the appropriate level of outrage.

quote:
... the notion that her face is beside the title "defending our dreams", as if the dreams of women of colour are to become white.

The kid does look kind of dreamy - or pensive - but we do not know what she's daydreaming about. "Defending" is not a passive concept. Hey, it could be war-paint! If 'they' had used blue makeup, no problem. Maybe there is no blue clay where she lives.


quote:
And that's just to start.

There's more?
quote:
And yes, I agree with Babbling_Jenn's point that there is something to get excited / angry / enraged about. The cover is outrageous, racist and hugely problematic.

If this is huge in your life, you are truly blest.

ETA: M. Spector

[ 26 June 2006: Message edited by: nonsuch ]


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Babbling_Jenn
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posted 27 June 2006 06:00 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Good question -- where is this woman from? Canada perhaps? USA? the UK? What kinds of paint to these countries put on their faces...maybe she's at a soccer game!

One possibility I suppose.

Well, this cover is not the most outrageous thing in my life. So I guess I'm not as lucky as you say. But just because something is not the most disturbing thing doesn't mean it shouldn't be addressed.

It is possible that the paint is tribal, I guess. But it is just as possible that it is something else.

Why would a woman of colour paint her face white?

And a better question: why would a feminist anthology decide to put a photograph of a woman of colour with white paint on her face on the cover with no easy explanation?

There was a deliberate usage of paint. Why? If it is not offensive, I'd like to know why it isn't. Assuming that the intentions were good doesn't answer the "why." I also am hesitant to assume that it can be solved by "tribal" paint since women of colour are so often assumed to be exotic and tribal when it is quite probable that this woman is from New York.


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Drinkmore
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posted 27 June 2006 06:36 PM      Profile for Drinkmore     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Babbling_Jenn:
From the moment I saw the cover I was suspicious of it. I felt this way because one of the people involved with the actual making of the book was furious when she saw it. Apparently, she had not seen the cover before it went to print.

This story alerted me to the potential racist readings of the photograph.


Sorry, I missed this. Story?


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bigcitygal
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posted 27 June 2006 07:05 PM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Babbling_Jenn, I'm truly regretful of the mocking / sarcastic tone that M. Spector has taken, and the rather disingenuous tone that nonsuch has taken. Thanks for starting the thread and getting some discussion going on this topic. Racism is everywhere, and an anti-racist feminist anthology with very important voices of young women of colour is one of the last places I'd hope to see it expressed so blatantly.

As for the mocking and teasing boys, taking this discussion so lightly and jokingly is a hell of a way to listen to perspectives of voices and experiences that rarely get attention, in the MSM or, actually, here on babble. Thanks so much for your support.

A definition of "woman of colour"? GFE, friends. Google Fucking Exists.


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M. Spector
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posted 27 June 2006 07:12 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by bigcitygal:
Racism is everywhere, and an anti-racist feminist anthology with very important voices of young women of colour is one of the last places I'd hope to see it expressed so blatantly.
Or expect to see.

Which kind of makes me wonder whether you aren't completely misrepresenting what that cover represents, on some extremely flimsy "evidence".


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nonsuch
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posted 27 June 2006 09:04 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
the rather disingenuous tone that nonsuch has taken

I said i don't know. I really, honestly, cross-my-heart don't know. Outraged speculation may be more ingenuous than rational speculation, but it's all just speculation.

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Michelle
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posted 28 June 2006 04:17 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
When I saw the cover after Babbling_Jenn brought it up, my first assumption was that whoever picked it is conscious of, and sensitive to, issues in anti-racist feminism. So my first reaction was, this must have a meaning that is anti-racist in nature. And why wouldn't we figure that - why would we think that someone would sabotage the book with a cover that has a racist meaning?

Then I thought, it probably has something to do with people of colour being marginalized by a white society.

I don't think she looks silenced or weak or anything else. She's staring out with a serious look on her face - one could even interpret that look as confrontational and direct, which is what I thought when I saw it. I thought that the white paint was supposed to represent the white society that she has to live in, and yet, she is staring out of it, and not letting it obscure her completely.

And I think it's reasonable to assume, if more than one reasonable interpretation of the image is readily available, one being that it's racist, and the other being that it's making a statement ABOUT racism, and the people involved with the project are anti-racist feminists, that probably it was meant as a statement ABOUT racism.


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
pookie
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posted 28 June 2006 05:16 AM      Profile for pookie     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm surprised people would quibble over whether she's a woman of colour. She definitely looks like one to me.

I don't necessarily agree with the more sinister interpretations of the photo. But I would add my voice to BCG's: the hostility towards and belittlement of the anti-racist analysis in this thread is disgusting. As I said, I don't necessarily adopt that analysis of this picture, myself. But there are ways, and ways, to disagree.


From: there's no "there" there | Registered: Dec 2005  |  IP: Logged
deadduck
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posted 28 June 2006 05:35 AM      Profile for deadduck     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I totally agree that there are many ways to see the photo. Interpretations, of course, vary. Of course it is very important that we have an aggressive feminist critique of society and be vigilant against sexism/racism.

However, I believe my point earlier, and perhaps what some of the others are saying, is that one should be careful when accusing someone of being racist or sexist. That is a VERY serious charge and some evidence should be provided outside of an artistic interpretation. Because something CAN BE INTERPRETED as racist/sexist/capitalist doesn't necessarily mean that it is.

[edited for spelling]

[ 28 June 2006: Message edited by: deadduck ]


From: far east | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged
Drinkmore
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posted 28 June 2006 02:34 PM      Profile for Drinkmore     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by deadduck:
I totally agree that there are many ways to see the photo. Interpretations, of course, vary. Of course it is very important that we have an aggressive feminist critique of society and be vigilant against sexism/racism.

However, I believe my point earlier, and perhaps what some of the others are saying, is that one should be careful when accusing someone of being racist or sexist. That is a VERY serious charge and some evidence should be provided outside of an artistic interpretation. Because something CAN BE INTERPRETED as racist/sexist/capitalist doesn't necessarily mean that it is.

[edited for spelling]

[ 28 June 2006: Message edited by: deadduck ]


Well, Babbling Jenn mentioned a story about this cover and perhaps there are more details to be found there.


From: the oyster to the eagle, from the swine to the tiger | Registered: Nov 2004  |  IP: Logged
Babbling_Jenn
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posted 28 June 2006 03:14 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Just to clarify. I don't want to accuse the photographer of being racist. I just want to explore the different interpretations that could exist -- one being potentially racist overtones.

I agree with Michelle. In this case, I doubt that those putting together the book would consciously choose an image that was racist. Therefore, probably both the chooser (I don't know who chooses pictures for books) and the artist are anti-racist feminists.

The problem I see here is that the image is not easily read. My major gripe is that it could be read as racist AND the publisher has not responded to this -- either in the book or via e-mail.

For those of you interested in the story, there's not too much to it. One of the contributors came to pick up a copy of the book when it was ready and saw the cover. She did not feel that the image was appropriate for the book and was angry that such a potentially controversial image would be on the cover of something she wrote for.

AND

I'm trying to get a hold of the photographer currently to see if she'll participate in this conversation. Oh, internet, you're so great!


From: Rural Ontario | Registered: Nov 2005  |  IP: Logged
EmmaG
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posted 28 June 2006 10:03 PM      Profile for EmmaG        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Perhaps we need to ban women of colour from using white makeup or rubbing white clay on their faces.

Ban them from buying it, for their own good of course. We wouldn't want have to decipher an artistic photo of a woman of colour actually wearing the makeup.

This cover is in the eye of the beholder. I think the designer and/or photographer was quite possibly a woman of colour who wanted to make an abtract statement on colour, racism, culture, beauty etc.... that takes on a different meaning for different people.

If you find his or her's design "troubling" in an agree to disagree kind of way, that's fine. As long you're not veering into "let's get the human rights complaint process going" territory.


From: nova scotia | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged
anasuya
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posted 28 June 2006 10:12 PM      Profile for anasuya   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
...here's to Defending our Cover...

I've just read with fascination the debate that's raging on this bulletin board around the cover of Defending our Dreams. As one of the editors of the anthology - and in fact, the instigator of the cover design - I need to take both responsibility for the cover and for the explanation (or at the very least, the interpretation) that I took first, and that we then collectively took as editors and publishers.

So to comment on a few issues:
1. The cover was not 'imposed' upon us by the publishers (who, btw, are extremely progressive and open to suggestions). The chronology of the matter is that the designer from the publishers sent us a mock-up that we didn't like at all: it was a rather mundane photograph of a host of women (with some young women in front) who were leading a rally in some of part of Bangladesh (the reason we know this is that the banners being carried were in Bangla). The reason we didn't like it is that it was not really in the spirit that we felt the book embodied: that as young feminists, we aren't only about chutzpah and energy on the streets (which we certainly do have) but also about the thoughtfulness and reflection and analysis, both individually and collectively, that we are capable of. After all, the collection was meant to showcase young women's actions and analyses from across the world - most of whom were being published for the first time.

2. Having rejected that - and it was unanimous from all three of us (black, brown and white) - it was up to us to come up with an alternative, and quickly. We also wanted, as far as possible, for the cover to reflect the work of young feminist women we admired; so I looked up the photos of some artists whose work I respect: one of whom is Jasmeen Patheja, a young activist artist from Bangalore, whose self-portrait we're all debating over (please see http://blanknoiseproject.blogspot.com on more about the great work Jasmeen does; I've asked her too to write in her reasons for the self-portrait being as it is, probably entirely different from the ways we saw it - such is art). The image you now see on the cover of DoD appealed to me immediately; emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically, because to me it represented the face of a thoughtful, strong young woman - where the mask was both cultural as well as political, *not* in terms of race but in terms of having had other people 'speak for us' in ways that we are rejecting - or at the very least, redefining - in the anthology. Each of the editors had different reasons to like it and *none* of us saw it as a racist issue. And yes, where we come from, masks are very much part of our histories and cultures in ways that are challenging - and often, ritual and ceremonial - but not about race (I should have remembered Fanon, myself, but what to say? I didn't.).

3. I come from India, where I have lived and worked for most of my life; Shamillah similarly lives and works in South Africa, Kristy is from Canada but lives and works in South Africa too. As young women from the South, it's fascinating to me that the cover represented to us strength and voice - perhaps emphasised by the fact that I knew the artist and her work - but not race (either positively or negatively). I don't want to go into issues around over- and under - interpretation as many of you have (rather!) eloquently done in this discussion, but it certainly is true that our locations, our contexts and our histories provide us with different interpretations, and perhaps even importantly, different responses to those interpretations. I think it shouts out to us - visibly, in this case - that we need to be careful about interpreting out of context, without allowing for a richness in interpretation - there's a danger in homogenisation (as different from acknowledging commonality, I think). In turn, we do need to be cognisant about interpretations from other contexts (though not, perhaps, to the point of letting political correctness win over art and its challenge?). With a little more time, we would have wanted to put in Jasmeen's bio (her name is on the back cover, if you look, and inside) and a quick note on the photograph, but we were really exhausted at the end of two years of very hard work on the anthology and the finishing stretch is often the toughest. Not an excuse, but an explanation. A point to be kept in mind when we have that second print run that someone mentioned. Here's to hoping...

4. While AWID may not have responded to your email, Babbling_Jenn - which we will check up on (Shamillah?) - I certainly had a long conversation with the contributor who you mention, in October last year, when the book was launched, and I thought we had cleared up the confusions. I'm sorry that it wasn't, in turn, clarified for you, but frankly, not that sorry, else we would have missed out on this amazing exchange around our cover!

5. What I'm really hoping for is that a similarly passionate exchange can be had around what's beyond and inside the covers - that would make our work, and the contributions from some extraordinary women from around the world, so very much more worthwhile. I've uploaded the introduction to the book on a website that my partner and I are just constructing - www.sanmathi.org - do have a look. And perhaps if you all agree, with your permission, I could link to your discussions around the book?

... by the way, on a last note (and please take this as an irreverent aside, not a political statement), the glob on Jasmeen's face was yellow! nonsuch, you weren't far off the mark...

in solidarity, but not necessarily always in consonance,
anasuya


From: India | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged
M. Spector
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posted 28 June 2006 11:13 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thank you, Ms. Sengupta, for solving this problem for us.

I apologize for your having to "Defend your Cover" to a bunch of babblers with way too much time on our hands. But I do hope you were at least able to derive some amusement from all this.

In solidarity,
M.


From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
anasuya
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posted 28 June 2006 11:51 PM      Profile for anasuya   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Heck, M., I wouldn't have missed it for all the masks in the world.

And seriously, vive le dissent. It's one of the most powerful inspirations we have...


From: India | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged
nonsuch
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posted 29 June 2006 01:27 AM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Go, grils!
From: coming and going | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 29 June 2006 07:05 AM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
And you know, stripping away all the political and social stuff, it's a darn good photo. It will make the book stand apart from others on the shelf, and it will undoubtedly increase readership.

(lol, the mask was yellow...)


From: The Alley, Behind Montgomery's Tavern | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbling_Jenn
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posted 29 June 2006 07:52 AM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
anasuya, thanks for all the explanation. Your thoughtful answers to all of our questions were really great.

I've sent Jasmeen the link to this discussion so that the artist herself can take a look at all of the interpretations.

(as an aside, though the glob on the woman's face may have been yellow, on the cover it is printed white)

Speaking to getting away from the cover to what's inside the book, there is a review of it on rabble

here.

And, concerning M. Spector's comment:

quote:
I apologize for your having to "Defend your Cover" to a bunch of babblers with way too much time on our hands. But I do hope you were at least able to derive some amusement from all this.

While you may want to apologize to anasuya, please do so for yourself, not the group. I'm not sure why some members of this forum are so scared of having a discussion around meanings and contexts of art, gender and race. I don't think this has been a useless discussion and I think everyone has a perspective to bring.

If you don't think it's worthwhile to discuss these things, don't participate.


From: Rural Ontario | Registered: Nov 2005  |  IP: Logged
bigcitygal
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posted 29 June 2006 09:28 AM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thanks, anasuya. I appreciate the time you took for your response. I'm really looking forward to reading the book.
From: It's difficult to work in a group when you're omnipotent - Q | Registered: Apr 2005  |  IP: Logged
M. Spector
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posted 29 June 2006 04:59 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Babbling_Jenn:
While you may want to apologize to anasuya, please do so for yourself, not the group. I'm not sure why some members of this forum are so scared of having a discussion around meanings and contexts of art, gender and race. I don't think this has been a useless discussion and I think everyone has a perspective to bring.

If you don't think it's worthwhile to discuss these things, don't participate.


That's rich!

You're the one who should be apologizing.


From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
unionist
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posted 29 June 2006 05:58 PM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Now that the apparent mystery of the meaning of the photo has been resolved, I move that this thread be closed.

Do I have a seconder?


From: Vote QS! | Registered: Dec 2005  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 29 June 2006 06:06 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by M. Spector:
That's rich!

You're the one who should be apologizing.


Okay, you know what? This isn't necessary. And she's right - you really don't need to apologize for anyone else. Especially since your original post implied, despite using "we", that it was the people you disagreed with who were "making" her defend her cover, and that they were the ones who had too much time on their hands.

She's right - if you don't want to discuss the issue, there's a really easy way to avoid it - stop reading and responding to the thread.

I don't think it's necessary to close the thread. If people stop talking about it, the thread will sink. There are lots of open threads that have sunk. If it's still open, then that allows people to bump it sometime down the road if they happen to want to discuss the book in the future.


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
bittersweet
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posted 29 June 2006 08:58 PM      Profile for bittersweet     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
A key reason why this is a relatively effective cover shot is because the model is not average looking, but attractive. The main job of a book cover, like any ad, is first to make you look--to attract you. It has like .05 seconds to do that. It's not so attractive if you put an average face on the cover, though paint would go some way to compensating. Here the paint adds an unusual context to further attract, and showing half a face works the same way, creating more mystery. I.e., less is more. But the baseline is the model's good looks.

Attractive looks may or may not have anything to do with the book's content. Strictly from an advertising point of view, it doesn't matter.


From: land of the midnight lotus | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
Jasmeen Patheja
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posted 29 June 2006 09:20 PM      Profile for Jasmeen Patheja   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hi,

My name is Jasmeen Patheja, if you'd looked at the spine of the book you'd probably have seen my name. I am an artist,a photographer and I
run the Blank Noise Project(http://www.blanknoiseproject.blogspot.com)-which is a public art initiative that deals with street sexual harrassement/ 'eve teasing'.
As an artist/photographer my primary aim is to capture the world as i see it..and also,most importantly to have fun.
The potrait that has caused offence/furore was one of many that had me and my family posing in face packs-the face packs varied in color-yellow,green
brown.......(you can see them online at http://blanknoiseproject.blogspot.com/2005/04/girls.html#links or http://www.fotolog.com/machlee/?pid=1425151
or http://www.fotolog.com/machlee/?pid=21576).Anasuya Sengupta, one of the editors of the book liked the picture she,her co-authors and the publishers must have thought it was an evocative image and I was happy to let her use my picture for the cover of the book,
taken in context of the book..I understand why it caused such offence..but I guess that's one of the perils of deconstruction but in the end it was just a girl having fun with herself...and the picture is in black and white
...it has no color :-)

Jasmeen Patheja.


From: Bangalore | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged
unionist
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posted 29 June 2006 09:24 PM      Profile for unionist     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thank you! How wonderful! And Michelle, thank you for ignoring my suggestion to close this thread!

Ahhhh.


From: Vote QS! | Registered: Dec 2005  |  IP: Logged
Wilf Day
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posted 29 June 2006 10:40 PM      Profile for Wilf Day     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by anasuya:
I come from India, where I have lived and worked for most of my life; Shamillah similarly lives and works in South Africa, Kristy is from Canada but lives and works in South Africa too. . . What I'm really hoping for is that a similarly passionate exchange can be had around what's beyond and inside the covers - that would make our work, and the contributions from some extraordinary women from around the world, so very much more worthwhile.

I'm sure this book is going to be an excellent birthday present for my daughter. Thanks to all.

From: Port Hope, Ontario | Registered: Oct 2002  |  IP: Logged
Secret Agent Style
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posted 30 June 2006 06:22 AM      Profile for Secret Agent Style        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by bigcitygal:
The cover is outrageous, racist and hugely problematic.

So where's bigcitygal now, after her accusations of racism have been shot to hell once again. Oh yeah, off in another thread telling white people to shut up in the anti-racist forum if they aren't sufficiently filled with white middle-class liberal guilt.

Typical. She accuses and accuses, and then when she's proven wrong, she disappears and doesn't apologize, using her skin colour as a free pass to denigrate people. (Oh no, I must be a bigot because bigcitygal says the word "denigrate" is racist!)


From: classified | Registered: Jan 2002  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 30 June 2006 06:32 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
There was definitely more than one way that cover could have been taken, and while I disagreed with Babbling_Jenn's and bigcitygal's interpretation, the whole point of provocative art is to, well, provoke. Discussion, in this case. And all along, bigcitygal said that she was planning to read the book, and wanted an explanation for what appeared to her to be a racist and problematic book cover. Even the person who picked out the cover said she was fine with the discussion happening here.

What I'm not fine is the kind of attack you just threw out at bigcitygal, Secret Agent Style. Cut it out.


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
morningstar
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posted 30 June 2006 07:47 AM      Profile for morningstar     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
when i saw the posted pic of the woman on the cover, it hit me in the pit of my stomach--- before i read the threads.

regardless of what the artist says her intent was, people are always going to feel something in good art[ which i think that pic is]

i would buy the book just based on the cover---i found it powerful and disturbing enough to get very curious.
i hope that others will have a similiar response so that sales are good. it sounds interesting.


From: stratford, on | Registered: Apr 2006  |  IP: Logged
Babbling_Jenn
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posted 30 June 2006 10:16 AM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What a great forum this has been. I've really enjoyed it.

When I e-mailed Jasmeen I had found her blog online. There was a photo there of her with green face paint on and I thought "ah-ha!" there is the inspiration behind the photograph.

It's good to see where the image came from and the thought that went through picking the cover photo.

Jasmeen, if you're still checking up on the forum, does the face paint have significance? Is there a reason why you take pictures of yourself or others wearing face paint?


From: Rural Ontario | Registered: Nov 2005  |  IP: Logged
Makwa
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posted 02 July 2006 07:16 AM      Profile for Makwa   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Secret Agent Style:
So where's bigcitygal now, after her accusations of racism have been shot to hell once again.
Pssst. SAS. Perhaps she's over
here. You didn't hear it from me.

From: Here at the glass - all the usual problems, the habitual farce | Registered: Oct 2005  |  IP: Logged
Naci_Sey
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posted 02 July 2006 09:50 AM      Profile for Naci_Sey   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Funny. I didn't think in terms of racism at all when I first saw the cover, only later after reading this thread. My first take was of the determination of women - ALL women - not to be silenced or made invisible by the dominant culture. I found the cover quite clever.

The cover of WISE's book hasn't been without controversy either. For the most part, it's been women of my generation and older who have been put off by the photo, which depicts the rear view of a concrete statue of a nude woman who is facing a closed door. Or perhaps they're put off by the fact that she has no head, lower arms or feet. The photo took me aback the first time I saw it, then quickly drew me in.

It's an important, difficult task creating or choosing the cover of a book, particularly if you intend to make it a political statement. In some cases, such covers will be controversial and elicit strong reactions.

[ 02 July 2006: Message edited by: Naci_Sey ]


From: BC | Registered: Apr 2006  |  IP: Logged
M. Spector
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posted 02 July 2006 12:39 PM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Michelle:
Especially since your original post implied, despite using "we", that it was the people you disagreed with who were "making" her defend her cover, and that they were the ones who had too much time on their hands.
I didn't imply; you inferred.

And exactly who was it that was "'making' her defend her cover" if not the very people that attacked it as being "concerning", "potentially racist", "latent racism", "outrageous, racist and hugely problematic...and that's just to start", and saying, "If it is not offensive, I'd like to know why it isn't"???

quote:
She's right - if you don't want to discuss the issue, there's a really easy way to avoid it - stop reading and responding to the thread.
What gave you the idea that I din't want to discuss the issue? I've been discussing it throughout this thread.

Oh, wait - I get it. What you mean is if I want to disagree with someone who is bringing up groundless allegations of racism against the publisher of an anti-racist, pro-feminist anthology, I should "stop reading and responding to the thread".

quote:
...the whole point of provocative art is to, well, provoke. Discussion, in this case.
That's exactly what I was doing. If you want to disagree with me, fine. But don't try to shush me.

From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
anasuya
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posted 09 July 2006 03:05 AM      Profile for anasuya   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hi folks, I've started my life in the blogosphere with writing about this debate we've been having: please see http://blogs.sanmathi.org/anasuya

Thanks again for sharing this space with me!


From: India | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 09 July 2006 08:36 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hey, that was a good blog post. I've bookmarked you. Hope you'll still be keeping in touch here too.
From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
M. Spector
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posted 09 July 2006 09:51 AM      Profile for M. Spector   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I particularly liked this:
quote:
And not just talk in that politically correct manner which we’ve unfortunately learnt to perfect; we need to debate with heat, with strength, with fire. Without ear plugs.

Vive le difference, le debate, le dissent. As I’ve said elsewhere (Fundamentalisms of the Progressive), dissent is one of the most powerful dis/organising principles we have. Without it, we would remain just… opinionated, obtuse, insular, arrogant, blinkered, Bush. Dangerous. Who’s ready to disagree with me then, huh huh?



From: One millihelen: The amount of beauty required to launch one ship. | Registered: Feb 2005  |  IP: Logged
anasuya
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posted 09 July 2006 09:06 PM      Profile for anasuya   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Thanks muchly, and I'm sure to keep lurking... after all, you're my first-blog-Muses!

I'm also trying to put together a space on sanmathi for the Defending Our Dreams authors to talk about the ways in which they enact their dreams - the practical stuff alongside the visioning. I did read the rabble review...


From: India | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged

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