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Voiceless in Vogue

The Battle Against Sexual Harassment in the Fashion & Art World


Disclaimer: this article contains reference to nudity and offensive language



As Harvey Weinstein’s trial resumed in 2020 and he now serves a 23-year prison sentence, the number of people who are speaking out about their traumatic experiences on sexual harassment in the art world has increased exponentially.


Fashion's Ugly History

Photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber have both been suspended from working with fashion magazines like Vogue, after male models accused them of sexual exploitation. The allegations against Testino included groping and masturbation, leading to multiple male models and assistants to report incidents dating back to the mid-1990s.


“Sexual harassment was a constant reality” - Roman Barrett, formerly Testino’s photographer assistant.

Weber has been accused by 13 current and former models of subjecting them to unnecessary nudity and coercive sexual behaviour. His modus operandi was to incite models to do “breathing exercises” only to then take advantage of the situation grouping and touching theirs and his genitals during photoshoots and castings.


Most recently, a story came to light in which 12 young male models had come forward over the recent years to accuse designer Alexander Wang of sexual assault: from undressing models in public, to randomly touching and groping them or lacing drugs into drinks.


“All of a sudden he unzipped my trousers, put his hand in my pants and started grabbing my penis in front of a bunch of people.” - Keaton Bullen, fashion student.

Double Meaning Photography

Targets have spoken up about experiencing inappropriate comments, sexual misconduct and advances. Others have seen their work traded in for sexual favours. However, the positive side to these allegations coming to light, is that the art world is becoming less and less tolerant against these incidents.


Chuck Close, a giant of the art world, had his exhibition cancelled by the National Gallery of Art in Washington due to allegations of sexual misconduct.


Magnum Photos is cleaning up the allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against David Alan Harvey, a veteran photographer of the agency. Almost 11 women have publicly stood up against him and over 600 signatures of the agency’s fellows have been collected to push Magnum to conduct an independent investigation in order to, in their words, “not once again place the entire burden of proof on survivors”.


“White men in power have gotten away with bad behaviour since the beginning of time. It has done more damage than he or Magnum could ever imagine” - Alicia Vera, Harvey’s target
Photograph by Christopher Michel
Harvey in Havana, 2017

Harvey used Magnum events, workshops and masterclasses to make advances towards young female photographers, especially women of colour and from developing countries, including suggestive comments, unwanted sexual solicitations or masturbating without consent on video call. Harvey denies these claims of inappropriate behaviour but still resigned from Magnum.


Targets are no longer surprised and, in some way, have normalised the deep-rooted behaviour that they have to face on a daily basis, but now they have had enough. A public letter issued by the organisation We Are Not Surprised stated ‘We will stay silent no more over sexual harassment in the art world’. It was published in The Guardian in the name of various artists in order to push for change.


At Metta Space we stand behind those artists and targets of sexual harassment who have spoken out. Art creates a reflection and representation of our society. Having more targets speak up about the sexual harassment they face, then only shows us that our society is shifting as well.


These transitions show that silence can be detrimental and that rather, by sticking up together, power can metamorphose from protecting the harasser, to empowering the target.

 

Written By: Blanca Zaragoza, Research Ambassador at Metta Space


Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space

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