An artist has been fooling Instagram users into thinking Shudu Gram is a real-life stunningly dark supermodel and he’s been boosting his own profile while doing it.
White photographer Cameron-James Wilson thought up Shudu after becoming inspired by the dark-skinned Princess of South Africa Barbie doll. He also admitted that real-life models like Duckie Thot, who posed for Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty campaign, served as inspirations.
“Basically Shudu is my creation, she’s my art piece that I am working on at moment,” Wilson told Harpers Bazaar in a Friday, Feb. 9 article. “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.”
However, Shudu was real enough that Fenty Beauty’s social media manager thought she was really modeling the brand’s Saw-C neon orange matte lipstick, having reposted the image from Shudu’s IG with 41,200 followers. With only 18 posts, Refinery29 reported the beauty brand resharing the image gave a massive boost to the CGI model’s profile.
But whether Fenty Beauty approves or not, many others are fired up over the fact that the London-based photographer is gaining personal clout by digitally creating a Black model, rather than simply photographing a real woman.
“This is problematic,” a Twitter user remarked. “Instead of hiring a Black model, the photographer created one. Is it that hard to pay Black women? Also shows how much dark skin is still being exoticised by the media.”
“As much as I appreciate art I detest the fact that the minute dark skin is finally glamourized by the mainstream media a white man finds a way to commercialize & capitalize off it,” said another. “Black skin is not a trend. Black skin is not a toy. Black women even more not so.”
“Hold tf onnnnnn,” a Twitter user said. “So someone ‘made up’ a Black model, when they actually could’ve just hired a real life Black one? At your big big age. Trash!
Yet despite all the blowback, Wilson isn’t sweating it. He defended his reasons for not taking photos of a real Black woman as Shudu simply being a creative outlet.
“As a photographer, I work with lots of different people all the time, real people that have inspired her,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a way for me to express my creativity —it’s not trying to replace anyone. It’s only trying to add to the kind of movement that’s out there. It’s meant to be beautiful art which empowers people. It’s not trying to take away an opportunity from anyone or replace anyone. She’s trying to complement those people.”