Shop - Selling the Ontology of Whiteness
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Shop... Selling the Ontology of Whiteness

In Shop... Selling the Ontology of Whiteness, Forbes started out by exploring the visual representation of fashion and handbags as desired objects. Forbes started purchasing counterfeit handbags from African migrants on the streets of Europe, for his masquerade sculptural works. He later started documenting shop windows on his travels including Venice, Rome, Naples and London, during this period a number of interesting ideas started to emerge from the images and the research for his dissertation, at the time (titled; The Metaphysics and Racial Politics of Blackness through the work of Kerry James Marshall). The idea /question that came up, was what is being sold through the shop windows, beyond the merchandise? He concluded, from what he could see and the information he was absorbing from his research, was the ontology of whiteness is being actively promoted through the shop windows and the use of the mannequins.

The mannequins are predominately white, with a small percentage being brown and a few with a black person’s facial features, but coloured white or shades of blue. Forbes’s hypothesis here is the mannequins with black facial features, are not allowed to be black/brown, thereby undermining and devaluing blackness further in the capitalist system of creating desire. For Forbes there is a clear message here, that whiteness sells luxury goods, but an element of blackness carries some cachet, coolness, edgy or danger, but not enough to be the main visual representation of the shop windows.  

The text layers in the work explores the extremities of racial politics and discrimination in relation to whiteness. The abstract text creates a form of push me pull me schematics, thereby the viewer is drawn in by the beauty of the photographic image, but part challenged by the text. The work allows the viewer to question their own positionality in relation to this critique. The layering is used as an aesthetic tool in line with fashion advertising, more strikingly the text is a genuine link to racial political discourse of today.

With Shop... Selling the Ontology of Whiteness, Forbes is able to develop a wider narrative from the shop window diorama, than intended by the window dresser, which is emphasised with photography’s ability to raise the aesthetic value of its subject. Contemporary and historical photography; and the moving image have been developed to enhanced white skin and its attachment the pure, Richard Dyer in his book White, refers to ‘The technology he is using and the habitual ways of using it, both produce a look that assumes, privileges and constructs an image of white people’.

On the flip side of the privileging white skin, photography devalues black skin supporting Forbes’s hypothesis, the mannequins with black features are not allowed to be black, therefore they are white or different shades of blue, which concurs with Jennifer Martins’ statement ‘a historical investigation of the use of photography as a tool of erasure and obscuration of black and brown peoples’ histories and identities’.

 

Michael Forbes

 

Dyer, Richard  White, 1997, Routledge London

Martin, Jennifer,  One Drop, One : What it Means to Burn states, 2018, Royal College of Art MA dissertation London

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