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How Did This “Tribal” Vogue Australia Editorial Get a Racism Pass?

vogue-australia-2014-04-apr-1813404389891We’re not sure how we missed this in the April issue of Vogue Australia – covered by Abbey Lee Kershaw – but Vocativ has pointed out that this is one ethically dubious editorial.   

In a shoot titled “Tomorrow’s Tribe,” photographer Sebastian Kim lensed Brazilian model Marina Nery in a fashion trend that just won’t seem to fade: cultural appropriation. Which cultures? Well, quite a few of them. The 10-photo series features a large amount of face paint that seems to vibe very loosely off Aboriginal culture, but Australia isn’t the only country having its hottest #tribalcore lewks showcased.   

Other ingredients thrown into Kim's cultural potpourri include Kenyan-style beaded collars and bracelets (from ETHNIX Tribal and African Art in New York) and even two feathered headdresses.

What’s interesting is that just last week, W magazine released a striking yet ethically questionable editorial somewhat fittingly titled “Gilt Trip,” depicting Edie Campbell trotting around Burma in Prada sandals and traditional Kayan brass coil neck stretchers. W had posted two of the photos on its Instagram last week, although one has since been deleted, presumably in light of negative comments, leaving only an ambiguous beauty shot. The full editorial is still up on its website.

Perhaps if the Vogue Australia editorial had been more widely circulated around the Internet, more people would have called it out. It only appears on Nery’s Instagram, and she has a paltry 9,000 followers to W mag’s 315,000. But while blackface generally falls into the category of "don't do it ever," cherry-picking from your fave tribes does seem to be a grey area. What’s the difference between appropriation and appreciation?

Regarding the shoot in question, not much. Kim has landed himself in hot water before for shooting white model Ondria Hardin in blackface (for a spread in Numéro titled “African Queen”) and Franzi Mueller in “Geisha Chic” for Vogue Germany. Further, the stylist in charge of this cultural mishmash, Katie Mossman, worked with Kim on both those editorials too. It seems like both Kim and Mossman could do with a little ethical perspective. Or at least a geography lesson.