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Vogue, “The Rape of Africa”  and the image of the continent

Published 05th May 2010 - 10 comments - 9665 views -

Calling Africa a country is a bit old fashioned and ignorant, but it's still the topic of many heated discussions. Most recently: the need of an African Vogue, and David LaChapelle’s exhibition “The Rape of Africa”.

Tongue-in–the-cheek woman’s magazine Jezebel, quotes  Tanzanian ex model and fashion blogger Rosemary Kokuhilwa: “I actually love the idea of having "Vogue Africa" for the whole continent. Maybe in some way this will help bring us together as one  fashionably (think Pan -Africanism)”.

The topic is intensely debated, “ConnieMortadella” writes: “Except for the low-circulation Vogue Latinoamerica, most editions of Vogue are country-specific. It would make more sense to have a Vogue South Africa or a Vogue Nigeria than a pan-African Vogue, specially given the multiplicity of ethnic groups, languages and cultures throughout the continent.”

“Pickrd.AL” criticizes the need for luxury in the poor continent: "Are you kidding me?? in a continent ripped with poverty, starvation, rape, abuse and a multitide of issues that we cannot fathom, we're actually rooting for a fashion magazine as a symbol of triumph over these issues? There are much more critical things to achieve than touting some fashion magazine."

Photographer and film maker David LaChappelle exactly pictures this criticism. His photograph "The Rape of Africa" (At the Robiland and Voena gallery in London) is a modern interpretation of Sandro Botticelli’s "Venus and Mars".  The renaissance painting shows the god of war and the goddess of love after an amourous encounter, and has quite a peaceful interpretation: love conquers war. LaChapelle’s version shows Mars as a warlord surrounded by child soldiers and Venus (Naomi Campbell) representing Africa. The kitchy colours seem to shout : “Rapers and looters destroy the continent!”

On the BBC, LaChapelle explains that it is not “Just a political picture of Africa”. “Through our need of security, we are basically degrading mother Africa, representing mother earth." On the Africa-is-a-country-blog, Sonja Uwimana criticizes the way how western artists and celebrities victimize Africa for the sake of their own image: “David LaChapelle somehow doesn’t seem to be the right person for this job. Of course, “this job” is routinely taken up by many North American and Europeans artists, celebrities, and the like. All one needs to do to stay relevant is say something “meaningful” about Africa.”

Both the potential African Vogue and The Rape of Africa visually generalize the continent. Which image creates a better image for Africa? Or is the generalization itself the worst publicity you can get?


Photo: courtesy David LaChapelle

Category: Media | Tags: africa, africa, art, africa-as-country,


  • Luan Galani on 05th May 2010:

    You do have a point. Personally, I believe that generalizations are good for nothing. What better explains it and, therefore, sketches a better picture is a focused view, analysis. Local solutions for local problems wink
    I’ve enjoyed it.

  • Johan Knols on 06th May 2010:

    Hello Hieke,

    Refreshing article I must say!

    Vogue-Africa: I can understand that some people say that Vogue should be country specific. The question is whether this would be economically viable. The same question is probably the reason why some think that Vogue Africa might be a better idea. Personally I believe that it has nothing to do with Africa being seen as ‘one country’.

    LaChapelle: Sonja Uwimana is displaying again how many Africans see themselves: as victims. I see LaChapelle’s photograph not as an attack on Africa, but rather as a positive eyeopener. After all did the white Mars and the black Venus have intercourse together. Not in a violent way, but as an act of love. That should maybe highlighted more than the kid-soldiers in the background.

    Africans stand up. You have the future in your own hands.

  • Hieke van der Vaart on 06th May 2010:

    Hi Luan, thanks. I tend to agree. Analyisis of the local political and social situation is more accurate. But, on the other hand: LaChapelle himself says his photo goes beyond Africa, it criticizes the way in which we treat the whole earth. In this case, aestetic generalization and simplification make a stronger statement. Could you think of an “analytical” piece of art, that has the same impact?

  • Clare Herbert on 06th May 2010:

    A 7 year old student of mine receently asked ‘who is the king of Africa?’ The stereotype still exists and it will take more than Vogue, Hotel Rwanda or a blogging competition on development to change that. The first step though, is to have the debate, so thank you Hieke for starting one.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 06th May 2010:

    I agree, VOgue magazine, as any other publication, would be more successful if it was one-country centered…or is this the beginning of an unification of the continent? I know it might sound utopic…but the EU sounded to…

  • Andrea Arzaba on 06th May 2010:

    *too (sorry)

  • Sonja Uwimana on 06th May 2010:

    hi Hieke,

    thank you for linking to us!

    in response to Johan, i’m not sure how you got the impression that i consider LaChapelle’s work to be “an attack on Africa.” i don’t. i do think it’s a lazy and simplistic piece of work. it also strikes me as hypocritical to use the image of a semi-clothed woman to make a statement about “the rape of Africa.” in any case, there are far better (African) artists doing work that address the same themes, including Yinka Shonibare and Wangechi Mutu. i can assure you that neither one of them seems him/herself as a victim.

  • Johan Knols on 06th May 2010:

    Hi Sonja,

    Nice that you get involved on this platform. Let me rephrase ‘attack’. What I meant is that not everything that is created (let’s call it art) should be seen in a negative light. Would it be better if LaChapelle had made an image of, let’s say, an African war-victim? By the way, the image is about ‘love conquering war’, the rape is in the background of the image and should be seen as a metafore for all the things that are being done to your beautiful continent.
    LaChapelle had accomplished something important already and that is that we are discussing his work. And that was most likely exactly his intention.

  • Hieke van der Vaart on 06th May 2010:

    Thanks all, for your comments.
    @Andrea: The African Union already exists…But I think the gap between a political and a cultural union is huge (also in the EU).

  • Hieke van der Vaart on 06th May 2010:

    And @ Johan:
    True. Bad publicity = still publicity wink

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