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<nettime> Naeem Mohaiemen: VOGUE INDIA: Starving for a $10, 000 handbag
Patrice Riemens on Wed, 3 Sep 2008 12:51:47 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Naeem Mohaiemen: VOGUE INDIA: Starving for a $10, 000 handbag

(Bwo the Sarai Reader List)

Years ago the Delhi Sarai Initiative produced an ironic postcard
depicting a somewhat depressed-looking peasant holding a flacon of
dishwasher liquid 'JOY' in his hand. As usual with neo-capitalism,
reality has now overtaken fiction. But then fashionistas were already
accustomed in their favourite magazines to (lily-white) models
parading in exotic places among authentically - if suspiciously
immaculate - clad (very dark-skinned) locals. -PR


A fashion spread in the latest Vogue India, in which poor, nameless
Indians sport $10,000 handbags and $100 bibs, has catalyzed a profound
reaction in the press and blogosphere. What is the acceptability, many
are asking, of employing such jarring images, un-ironically, for the
sake of commerce?

>From UK's Telegraph:

   "The poor are always used as props, not as real people, which is
why they haven't even been named in the magazine," said columnist
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao. "Would they use homeless or hard up people in
London for this kind of shoot?" <<<

In The New York Times article which first brought widespread attention
to the matter, Indian journalist Kanika Gahlaut is quoted:

   There's nothing "fun or funny" about putting a poor person in a
mud hut in clothing designed by Alexander McQueen. "There are farmer
suicides here, for God's sake," she said, referring to thousands of
Indian farmers who have killed themselves in the last decade because
of debt. <<<

To which Vogue India editor Priya Tanna rebuts:

   "Lighten up...Vogue is about realizing the 'power of fashion'
and the shoot was saying that "fashion is no longer a rich man's
privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful. You
have to remember with fashion, you can't take it that seriously. We
weren't trying to make a political statement or save the world." <<<

The online debate is mostly propelled by incredulity:

Sepia Mutiny's Anna questions the nature of aspirational consumption
that marks India's current moment: "Giving impoverished people $10,000
bags, Burberry bumbershoots and Fendi bibs for their children reeks of
an appalling level of arrogance, an utterly clueless infatuation with
'edginess', and a heartless disregard for those for whom India does
not yet shine. Way to keep it classy, VI. Also, just so you know, the
text on that picture says, 'Baby's Day Out: It's never too early to
start living in style.'"

More outrage at Jossip...

"Generally, we'd applaud the use of non-models in a fashion book.
But we usually reserve our "thanks for not using anorexic models"
applause for those who don't substitute them with "skinny because of
malnourishment" persons." <<<


However, Daniel Altman, on his blog, Managing Globalization, insists
Vogue's spread should be tolerated, as it only reflects the growing
pains of a nascent but healthy liberal democracy: "But India is a
democracy, and you can't simply tell people what to do with their
money. Nor can you tell poor people what they should aspire to in
life. Is a poor person somehow less deserving of a fancy handbag?
Should they be prohibited from dreaming about the same luxuries as
rich people enjoy?"
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