May 26, 2010

Category: Art, Best Of, Real Talk

High Fashion or Low Class?


For some reason Venus’s provocative tennis outfit at the French Open got me thinking about Sofia Maldonado’s mural on 42nd Street and the uproar it created over whether it was a bold expression of art and culture or a simple promotion of stereotypical images of Black and Latina women. Why and when does art’s imitation of life become so problematic? High art or a low down dirty shame? Clearly it’s not just girls in the hood dressing like this as Venus’ reveal of her very taut booty has proved.

I argued on Facebook that because Sofia’s mural was in Times Square people were probably more offended by the images just because of who could view them (i.e. tourists and people who do not live in the hood). If this mural were in Harlem would people have been petitioning? Would it have been a major story on Fox News? I doubt it. The thing is I have no problem with the mural. I think it’s wonderful that Sofia chose to depict women who rarely figure into major artwork showcased in a midtown plaza, at The Whitney or otherwise.

Ironically though, I do have a problem with Venus’s very slightly camouflaged brown hinny being out on the red clay. At first when I posted the pics on theHotness Facebook page I was cool with it, but that was before I saw the flesh colored Spanx and felt like I was being mooned. I don’t know why I am torn like this, but I am. Maybe it’s because I think the bootleg Moulin Rouge get-up is ugly and I prefer to watch the Williams sisters serve aces and not as$. I don’t think it’s risque of Venus, but think it is lacking taste and class. Ugh, I said it! I hate that I can’t applaud her entirely for her effort like I can Sofia and other visual artists like Kara Walker who does happen to get play in The Whitney and whose work is crazy provocative and yes, even considered stereotypical.

A few years ago her exhibit, “My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love,” opened with a huge mural of a little pickanniny slave girl giving a Huckleberry Finn-type a blow job. Lawd, folks woulda just died if that was on 42nd Street or maybe not? Although Kara gets the same flack for promoting stereotypical, and even pornographic images of Black folk, they seem to be immediately excused because Kara is creating high-art. As a matter of fact Kara gets lauded for her stereotypes, err depictions of slave life.

So maybe then that’s what Venus is trying to do through her use of black lace lin-ga-ree and flesh colored biking shorts. Maybe she is creating high art through low fashion? Or maybe, as I really suspect, Venus is just suffering from sister envy and was trying to get some of the hype Serena got when she wore this. What do you think?


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15 Responses to “High Fashion or Low Class?Comment RSS feed

  • t.tara
    May 26th, 2010 6:30 pm

    Girl, sister envy it is. I do not think that Venus put that much intellectual thought into her “outfit” as one would hope. Performance artist she is not. Performers…that’s a different story.

  • Jill
    May 26th, 2010 6:35 pm

    Nice piece, and I appreciate the reconsideration.The more images I see, the more disturbed I am as well.
    It’s not just the drawers, either. Why is she playing tennis in what looks like lingerie, anyway?! She’s on a tennis court, not in a bedroom or bordello. I’ve tried to hang in there with the Williams sisters, but enough. They’re superb athletes, but when it comes to style they’re tackheads.

  • rebecca walker
    May 26th, 2010 6:51 pm

    I know I should have some very astute, political commentary on this, but I think you handled that. What I do have to say is: Serena FTMFW. That’s all.

  • mr jones
    May 26th, 2010 6:58 pm

    well, if “intellectual”, as t.tara mentions means, “given to study, reflection, and speculation”, then I would contend it was intellectual…. she views herself as a fashionista (and she is an athlete… athletes are artists), so yes, I do believe on some level it is “art”, whatever art is, of course…. as to the williams’s asses, it is an inevitable fact that their respective bodies will always be a subject of conversation, from the suggestions that they are “manlike”, to the adulation that some give to serena’s derriere. might as well use what you got and do what you do, unless, of course, you are not a true artist…..

  • Steven G. Fullwood
    May 26th, 2010 7:04 pm

    Perhaps your inability to applaud Venus for her choice to wear these shorts could be related to a feeling that you have no choice. That your black body does not belong to you and therefore you cannot dress it anyway you choose so why should she have that right? That you support standards that serve no one but people who would rather see you dead than live in a house next to them.

    “Class” and “taste” are simply a matter of who is looking, and some arbitrary notion of what’s proper and right. You should dig a little deeper into your own stuff.

    I liked the outfit and I like that she chose to wear it.

  • Renee Cole
    May 26th, 2010 7:27 pm

    Since you asked, I think (as in it is my opinion) that all of the above are tasteless! Just check the target audience in all (3) cases; what “they” consider art is always at the expense of the overall reputation of “us”. To me its no different than the rappers that glorify living in the hood amongst guns and violence, objectify women and describe a stint in prison as a walk in the park so that they can reap material benefits from people who know nothing about the hood but can sell these stories most of which are falsely magnified. All of them are SELLING “art” at the expense of people of color who to me are the world of capitalism’s most vulnerable in te context of the intellectual Professor Cornell West. I don’t find anything artistic about emphasizing the private parts of naked black women or in compromising positions such as in the picture posted. I wish someone would depict the reverse; a blonde white woman doing that to a man with an Afro, or Kobe Bryant with a flesh colored illusion of basketball shorts a jock strap and see if that sells to that same audience! If we already disrespect ourselves on a continuous basis then we can’t expect others to respect us–we don’t need to be concerned with the oppression committed on us by others–others can continue to make money off us and we will be none the wiser. Nakedness may be shown tastefully and I think in these three cases the “art” is distasteful.

  • Jeff Winbush
    May 26th, 2010 8:55 pm

    Let’s not overthink this. Venus wore that outfit for one reason: to give everyone something to talk about. Her play isn’t enough to get it done (when was the last time you saw either Venus or Serena on the cover of Sports Illustrated?), so give people an optical illusion and see what that does.

    OF COURSE it looks like hell. It’s supposed to. But showing off your lady parts works for Lady Gaga and Erykah Badu, so why wouldn’t it work for Venus?

    Media manipulation. It’s not just for dinner anymore.

  • negauniversal
    May 26th, 2010 8:56 pm

    I happened to be watching the match with two loved ones and we kept leaning into the tv screen, waiting for her to jump to verify that the shorts really were flesh-toned; waiting for the camera to zoom in to make sure that really was lace with no lining… and witnessing her in action, still playing her sport with the same seriousness as she would had she worn the plain + proper outfit worn by her opponent, I wasn’t mad at all. I didn’t get offended because I don’t think she’s representing “Black women”; she’s representing herself and the Williams family… and if I got upset every time those sisters came out looking ‘wrong’– which they have a history of doing (beaded braids/ to’-up weaves), then I wouldn’t EVER be able to enjoy the game. Venus may have been wanting attention that day (and we all have days like that) so she got it… only she’s not a girl in the hood strutting down the block- you’re right- but she’s strutting around the court- HER court. Just like Dennis Rodman’s antics claimed his territory- I think Venus did because she could. She owns the tennis court. Plus she won 😉

  • theHotness
    May 27th, 2010 10:50 am
    Author's Reply

    Great comments. A lot of very interesting points!
    @StevenGF: Nah, I can’t applaud Venus for her outfit because it’s ugly and honestly why should she get kudos for flashing her ass in public? I can see that on BET, MTV or right in front of my local bodega any night of the week. That’s nothing new. And there’s no envy from me. I body belongs to me of that I am sure and where what I please. I have no one to answer to about what I can or cannot wear and I most of all I wear what pleases me everyday.
    @negauniv: With a get-up like that she had better won!:)

  • theHotness
    May 27th, 2010 10:57 am
    Author's Reply

    @Renee: Those were excellent points! Even though I understand your stance, I don’t agree b/c I see the work of Sofia and Kara as documentary. There are women, hard working, educated, mothers who are represented in Sofia’s work that challenge status quo with their style. The mural is an acknowledgment and celebration of them. With Kara, her images are startling but I don’t think they serve to further oppress Black folk or give white folk some sense of pleasure or license to further discriminate. I think it makes all of us squirm a bit because at the end of the day what really happened to slaves is a lot more horrific and sexually exploitative than anything depicted in her murals… lest we forget.

  • florence tate
    May 27th, 2010 4:06 pm

    remember once when richard pryor told that disapproving white audience as he abandoned the stage, “you can just kiss my fat black, rich ass”!?
    maybe there’s a li’l bit of that going on here?

  • djauniversal
    May 29th, 2010 12:37 pm

    You know, I responded a bit on “hotface” to your first post, but after reading some of these comments here… I must, I must reiterate.
    1st. as a dancer and the kind of dancer I am, most who know me, know I love some nekedness. and nakedness or even, insinuated nakedness done well IS art.
    I have some pictures up now, on my profile and in a 2010 calendar currently in dance studios all around Italy that I would let my nieces and nephews see — and will be proud for my children and grandchildren to see — that demonstrate the beauty of art in motion.. the complexity of a dancer’s body, etc. etc. and, thankfully, i have not gotten one comment from the parent’s of my students or other onlookers about what i’m (not) wearing.. or the ‘tasteful’ choice… they just see the DANCE the ART.
    Now — to take it out of self — this is my problem w/ the Sisters. Honestly. Our criticism is not about lack of “ownership of our own black bodies” (make me laugh out loud, brotherman).. but rather the lack of representation on a large scale for those who have such ‘ownership’ of their bodies that they do it with, YES, class, and style. WHY of why is is so wrong for brown women to challenge other brown women on their choices of ‘style’ — especially when there are still so few representations of “us” in our many hues and body types out there???
    SO i stand firm. the Sisters are doing a little better with the hair.. but there is a time and place to ‘make statements’ .. and this current one of Venus should have been left in the boudoir. and damn if i’d love to help her style her beautiful black a$$ for some true fashion forward back handed swings! AND yes.. the beauty at the end of the day is she’s amazing at her sport /art and we should be focusing on that. thank goodness she won!

  • Greg Tate
    May 29th, 2010 12:59 pm

    lingerie,risque,budoir,derriere,josephine baker venus was definitely showing her working knowledge of french. and that day definitely bringing ass to kick ass.
    per my mama i do think venus was signifying like a mutha.

    somebody once said bad taste is the only taste worthy talking about since good taste is just the boring status quo.

    i’m more offended by the white entitlement elitism of the tennis world than anything the williams sisters will ever say do or wear.

    i love the way their compton reared sensibilities clash with that world and those of my favorite fashionistas alike.

    bring the drama. keep em talking. all in a days work for a diva.

  • Renee Cole
    May 29th, 2010 2:18 pm

    @hotness — It’s being called art and as such each person that view’s it sees something different so I don’t understand how you can speak for the artists; Ms. Maldonado commented on a radio program that her mural reflected communities of color and I don’t disagree that those images are in communities of color all I am saying is that oversized asses and tits are not the only images in communities of color. These depictions are what these artists envision. For all we know Venus is saying what Ms. Tate comment reflects “kiss her black a**” none the less even without the illusion of her naked butt the black lace and red tie was straight up UGLY and to me (in answer of the original question what do you think?)so are the other artist depictions mentioned in your article!

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