Shrouded in fog and secrecy, on the 11th of February Kanye West took to the stage unveiling his Yeezy season three collection and Life of Pablo album to an 18,000 strong audience. Set in Madison Square Gardens Kanye’s one hour and a half showcase was ‘stilted’, hyper-sexualized and ‘problematic’ leading critics to question ‘Yeezy’s’ fashion credentials. But some lapped up what Kanye had to offer praising its rebellion against ‘perfection’ and effortless merger between ‘normcore’ and athleisure wear, a trend made popular by model of the moment Gigi Hadid who was also in attendance. Set in a post- apocolyptic wasteland Beecrofts presentation of a refugee village of models was akin to the racial oppression of migrants ‘ordered’ to remain silent and be aquisant to their masters demands. In this case it was Yeezy who had lined them up in rows as objects for the ‘audiences viewing pleasure’ creating a powerful disconnect between identity and racial heritage. Say what you will about Kanye but highlighting the racial oppression of the black community through the medium of fashion was a smart political move and left many critics speechless.
Yet Wests interpretation of race cannot be analyzed without looking at the sociological context surrounding his and Beecrofts presentation; around 95% of the models are of ethnic origin and lined up in rows that segregate them based on colour adjacent to historical attitudes torwards the black community during the 1960’s . This is where black men and women were objectified for a Western audience as just ‘bodies’ for public consumption or presented in the media as humans without an identity. In a sense the ordering of the camps, the silence and the lack of expression from the models was a signifier for the liberation of ‘black identity’ and its silence was a powerful tool to expose pre-modern Western racial prejudice against the ‘social other’. West proves that he is a profound artist and his powerful expose of race and ethnicity gives West some redeeming qualities and yet the same cannot be said for his fashion credentials.
Featuring a heavily muted palate of ‘beige’ taupe and dove grey, Kanye adaption of normcore meets futuristic ‘survival’ athleisure is questionable. Ripped tailoring, poorly stitched hems and the overt sexualization of the female body are just some of the flaws you could find in Yeezy’s so called ‘perfect’ collection while the exposure of female breasts, revealing camel toes and the discomfiture of female models within the catwalk shows only how uncomfortable they are with their portrayal on the catwalk. It seems ironic that men are dressed in smart fitting structured jerseys and shirts while women are forced to stand there with their breasts on show and the deliberately slow panning of the cameras up their bodies only seeks to enforce that women are there to be sexualized for the male gaze.
Which leaves us as viewers with a dilemna; West’s show is problematic because it highlights racial oppression and how the Western world treated the black community-in West’s words- as ‘slaves’ but fully supports the objectification of the female body, creating a discord between humanitarianism & anti-femininism. But West dosen’t seem to care;lyrics accompanying West’s showcase pokes fun at women, particularly those in power like Taylor Swift reducing her to an object that he ‘might have sex with one day’ without her gainsay. To be blunt like his defence of alledged rapist Bill Crosby Kanye has shown that his perception of women is to value them like commodities for patriarchal consumption and though he may preach that he is a powerful political activist he is not. West clearly stands for liberating the ethnic community from Western control yet counts women out creating a patriarchy centred around his own misogynistic version of humanity. Notice how the men are for the most part fully clothed while the women stand in ill fitting mesh bodysuits with barely concealed genitalia a move that could be his downfall or his uprising. In my view the female body is a work of art but surely if West is celebrating the beauty of the ethnic body and its divergence away from Western customs then men would be unclothed too? Because empowering women through nudity is nothing new but West is creating a fetish culture that we have internally percepted as a normalized account of femininity and that is not ok.
What are your thoughts do you believe that Kanyes interpretation of race and gender is problematic?
* Please note I respect Kanye West as a musician but am not a fan of his fashion sensibilities and attitude towards women. Watch the video HERE as the photos do not fully show how ill fitting and see through the clothing is*