New East Digital Archive

New York photographer responds to Zhukova’s “racist chair” photo

24 January 2014

New York-based Russian photographer Alexander Kargaltsev has responded to a controversial photo of Moscow gallerist Dasha Zhukova, in which she is sitting on a chair resembling a semi-nude black woman with her legs up in the air. In a bid to reverse the “visual injustice and offence” of the Zhukova photo, Kargaltsev has reshot the image with a naked black man sitting on a naked white man on his back with his legs aloft. In an interview with OutThere magazine, he said he found Zhukova’s image “appalling and unacceptable”.

The LGBT activist said: “I felt an immediate urge to respond to such a shocking visual statement by one of the most powerful Russian-speaking cultural entrepreneurs in the world. I was forced to flee my native Russia because of ubiquitous homophobia and xenophobia and it deeply saddens me to see that racism is now being glamourised and thus made not only acceptable but trendy by the likes of Ms Zhukova.”

The photo of Zhukova was published on Russian fashion portal Buro 24/7 this week to accompany an interview with the socialite-turned-entrepreneur about her contemporary art magazine Garage, the name shared by her gallery. It caused outrage among bloggers and non-Russian press, in part because it had been published on Martin Luther King Day, a US national holiday to celebrate the civil rights activist. The founder of Buro 24/7, It-girl Miroslava Duma, hailed as a 2014 tastemaker by the Financial Times, was also criticised for the lack of judgement exercised by her staff.

Following the public backlash, the image was cropped so that only the chair’s “legs” were visible. Both Duma and Zhukova promptly removed the photo from their respective Instagram accounts. Zhukova, the partner of billionaire Roman Abramovich, has since apologised for any offence caused: “This photograph, which has been published completely out of context, is of an artwork intended specifically as a commentary on gender and racial politics. I utterly abhor racism and would like to apologise to anyone who has been offended by this image.”