The art and imagery of fashion photographer/director Jean-Paul Goude is…vexing. Damn you Goude. Having clicked around in torment for the last few hours, toiling before fashion blogs like an orphan begging for scraps of theory on Google street corners, I am little farther in my search for opine sustenance. My pop culture messiah-complex is being tested.

My Goude, my Goude, why have you forsaken me?

Consider the imagery of Saartije Baartman, or the “Hottentot Venus”, a member of the African Griqua tribe brought to England in the early 1800s to aid research in the “scientific” field of steatopygia, or the study of the shape of womens’ asses. This thinly veiled pseudo-scientific sexual fascination spelled Baartman’s tragic, if predictable fate as the object of the male/pale gaze until her untimely death on European soil. Baartman symbolizes the nature of primitivism in the colonialist/sexist imagination.

Consider Josephine Baker. Baker was perhaps the preeminent performer of the “racial burlesque”, she– to some degree– was aware/in control of her own parody, and remains a conflicted icon French fashion; the same world from which Goude developed his aesthetics.

How do we read the imagery of Goude? On one hand, he provokes a sense of absurdism in glamorous imagery, which precisely the kind of visual humor I would be inclined to call feminist aesthetics. But the parody of femininity is muted by the recurring references to gendered colonialism/primitivism, clearly with Baartman and Baker in mind. What are Jones and Goude playing at? How can these images be read, given the presence of feminist icon Grace Jones as the frequent object of Goude’s imagery? Can racism be similarly parodic as gender is in fashion photography? If not, why not?

My impulse is to say racist histories can certainly be parodied (which is a subversive and empowering act), but Goude’s male/pale gaze stops me short from throwing the doors open to naming these images feminist imagery. Is fashion Goude’s license? On one hand, I want to encourage the evolution of feminist readings on art but I don’t know that a discussion of nuance is to be had here.

I’m groping for answers. Assistance needed immediately. Grace Jones lobe of brain exploding…Plz hlp….