Shudu Gram is Fashion's Latest Controversial Supermodel

Shudu Gram is Fashion's Latest Controversial Supermodel

The avatar's creation puts into question the fashion industry's present and future.

The avatar's creation puts into question the fashion industry's present and future.

Text: Tess Garcia

At first glance, South African model Shudu Gram is striking, all angular features and pouty lips. Her chocolate brown skin seems to glow from the inside out, and her hair is cropped closely to her scalp, producing a look reminiscent of Maria Borges with an added extraterrestrial edge.

Shudu is so objectively beautiful that she practically looks inhuman. In fact, Shudu isn’t human at all; she’s the computer-generated creation of photographer and digital artist Cameron-James Wilson.

“Basically Shudu is my creation, she’s my art piece that I am working on at moment,” the 28-year-old Brit said in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “She is not a real model unfortunately, but she represents a lot of the real models of today. There’s a big kind of movement with dark skin models, so she represents them and is inspired by them.”

It should be noted that Wilson is a white male. As such, his choice to create a 3-D model of a dark-skinned woman, who he says was inspired by a Barbie doll, has become a hot-button subject of debate within the fashion world. Outside of marking the rise of CGI in fashion, the creation of Shudu begs a host of questions about diversification versus fetishization in the industry. Is a white man’s creation taking jobs away from real-life dark skin models? Is Shudu nothing more than a representation of Wilson’s idealized fantasy? Does Shudu benefit the black community in any real way, or is she simply another manifestation of the white man’s historic fascination with, and exoticization of, other races, ethnicities, and cultures?

An article from The New Yorker draws similarities between the Shudu project and the blackface minstrels of the antebellum period. Yet this comparison seemed not to have occurred to Wilson, who told the magazine that he had no intentions of profiting off black culture, and that he encourages conversation about the concerns Shudu elicits from onlookers.

Intentions aside, Wilson’s career has clearly benefitted from Shudu’s ascent to stardom. In addition to the “model”’s 123,000 Instagram followers, Wilson has amassed over 14 thousand of his own, and has been featured in major publications like Bazaar and The New Yorker on a regular basis.

“At the end of the day, it's a way for me to express my creativity,” Wilson told Bazaar. “It’s not trying to replace anyone. It's only trying to add to the kind of movement that's out there.”

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