Updated 17 Jul, 2017

Upcoming fashion photographer Alee Hassan has been on the right track.

With edgy editorials and a Lux Style Award for best emerging talent under his belt, he'd been making waves for all the right reasons... until now.

Yesterday, Hassan posted a shot of his "muse" Anam Malik and well, it's pretty clear that it's cross-cultural pollination gone wrong.

Hmmm "so daring" is a funny way to spell blackface because that's what this clearly is
Hmmm "so daring" is a funny way to spell blackface because that's what this clearly is

What may have seemed like a harmless creative decision to Hassan has resulted in him being slammed online for attempting to make a fashion statement by mocking an entire race.

Outrage also came from within the industry, such as from fellow photographer, Jaffer Hassan, who appeared to be alluding to this photo shoot.

Talking to Images, Alee didn't seem to be too bothered by all the reproval; "I'm not trying to criticise any race or origin. My style is about transformation, I work with colours and textures. Like I made the costumes in this shoot with plastic sheets styled to look like high fashion," he says.

"I don't want to enter into a big debate on this. A lot of people have also left positive feedback under the picture. I will be posting a Facebook status later addressing any criticism," he adds.

Intentional or not, one can't deny that the image seems to have disturbed many and looking at the shoot, we understand why: it is in bad taste and clearly racially insensitive. A form of theatrical makeup which gained popularity back in the early 19th century, blackface was used by white people to demean and degrade African Americans and purport stereotypes about them. Its use in the modern day is not something to be taken lightly.

While Alee may have been the latest to display such ignorance, he's certainly not the first; this seems to be a common trend in Pakistan's fashion fraternity.

In 2013, designer Aamna Aqeel was criticised for a photoshoot titled "Be My Slave" which appeared to glamourise child labour. Ali Xeeshan's campaign in 2015 featured an otherwise light-skinned Amna Babar made up in a heavily tanned look; ironic for a photo shoot that purportedly meant to embrace (natural) dusky beauty.

In 2017, we shouldn't have to explain to celebrities or the fashion world why blackface is offensive but we're going to give it a shot anyway since evidently they could use some guidelines.

So to all photographers (and models/makeup artists who go along with this!), here are a list of questions you should ask yourself if you'd like to be creative WITHOUT crossing the line into offensive territory:

1) Do you know your history?

No history is best forgotten, however uncomfortable it may be to remember.

As mentioned earlier, blackface is not something to be taken casually; it is rooted in the historical oppression of African Americans and glamourising it for an editorial is just not acceptable. It is insulting because it is a caricature of a black person, exaggerated to reinforce racist perceptions.

So how about we try not to throw political correctness and basic human decency out the window just for a laugh or an editorial?

2) Can you find a model who naturally embodies the qualities you're looking for?

If yes, why not just hire them instead of the supermodel of the day?

It's not like it's slim pickings out there; there's plenty of (relatively) dusky models to choose from such as Aamna Ilyas, Iraj and Fayezah Ansari to name a few.

In a culture and society that is obsessed with fair skin, slip-ups like this only fuel a regressive mindset. It's borderline insulting to pick up a fair-skinned model and paint her to look dark rather than give naturally dark-skinned models a chance.

What could've been a shoot challenging stereotypes is instead now a sad reminder of how we as people of colour still don't get how racism works, and of how dark-skinned talent is still consistently underutilised and sidelined even in projects that claim to celebrate their skin tone.

3) Do you understand that there's a line between appropriation and inspiration?

To adopt an all-things-go approach in fashion is not what should be promoted. We're not saying that you have no room to be experimental in the creative arts but there are some boundaries one must adhere to to be responsible.

For ages, the entertainment industries have long upheld the idea that blackness and all that it means to be black is valuable but just without the real black canvas, that is only when it's appropriated.

When it comes to appropriation, the debate always focuses on a dominant culture borrowing from a minority. That being said, just because we are people of colour doesn't make it okay for us to mock other minorities.

It hits particularly close to home when people who can't practice their culture freely, like many African Americans who feel oppressed, are hit in the face with privileged people getting away with the same practices under the garb of fashion. Like Greg Tate says, they get to wear "everything but the burden". It's yet another incident of when a person thinks it's amusing to dress up as a black person, when black people don't have that sort of luxury.

Case in point of "acceptable" black beauty? The Kardashians are envied for their big lips (via fillers) yet black women are ridiculed for the same, natural feature. Need we say more?

So to wrap up, what have we learnt from this? Just do your homework.


Alee Hassan has since taken to Facebook to address these criticisms.


Value Jul 13, 2017 06:06pm
Well if it is to support and promote the more colored community that proudly so the territory of Pakistan is blessed with all skin colors and we are proud of that. We can easily get the darker complexion models if this is to represent one good part of Pakistan. But coloring up darker to a lighter colored person may bring such criticism. Personally it is always a beautiful person (heart) and not necessarily the features only... All are equal and lovely and blessed,,,
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Ahmer Jul 13, 2017 06:08pm
Good lord. Everyone is so sensitive. I wonder if these people would survive even for a second a decade ago.
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Dr. Doctor Jul 13, 2017 06:29pm
Cultural appropriation is the new "you hurt my feelings" which is going to hurt mankind in unimaginable ways. Welcome to a modern world where eventually everything will be owned, rates and depth of breathing will be copyrighted as well. No one will be allowed to blink without an uproar. Stepping up for the right ideas would be prudent than following the fads of west blindly.
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UNSHACKLEpAK Jul 13, 2017 06:54pm
A person has the right to use whatever color or image they want. If it's not "physical violence" then they are free to do it even if hurts people's feelings. Now a person can't even draw a line without others feeling it's a violation of one sort or another. In free markets a person is free NOT to endorse of view those pictures. No violence. Simple freedom of expression.
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NiajiSAMA Jul 13, 2017 06:57pm
What a stupid thing to do.
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Ehsan Jul 13, 2017 08:00pm
It is disgusting to watch all morning/ comedy shows making fun of color, weight, physical appearance, and what is so unfortunate is that everybody, apparently rently, seems to be OK with it.
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Ali Jul 13, 2017 08:08pm
Sickness is in the mind of people criticizing. Alternate fashion is not even "alternate" anymore its kind have gotten mainstream. Editor, please avoid raising concerns where there aren't any. You will end up diluting the impact of real concerns raised through this forum.
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Zulfiqar ahmed Jul 13, 2017 08:51pm
You guys have absolutely no idea of racism towards black people in Pakistan. My wife is Nigerian who moved to Pakistan along with our 4 children. My wife and kids have heard many rude remarks about their colour and their afro hair. Our society is quite racist when it comes to black skin. The proof is the billion rupee market of fair skin products.
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Syed Tajgeer Jul 13, 2017 09:25pm
A true photographer is an artist, an artist see thru things common people with many bias views can not see. Let an artist express his/her feelings with they way they want it. We must learn to respect and appreciate all colors and races. Alee has all rights to express his artistic mind they way he likes it. Criticize his work not his object. Be open and live life with love not hate.
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h l Jul 13, 2017 11:11pm
Well done. Not only you highlighted the problem but also gave solutions to the problem. Thank you, for educating me on subject. I could not understand the logic of bashing photo grapher before reading your article. Thanks again for educating me.
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Abraham haque Jul 13, 2017 11:15pm
@Zulfiqar ahmed thank you
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dawnDawn Jul 14, 2017 12:50am
I don't understand why this is about racism. Does he say that blacks are bad? no.
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Osayed Rehman Jul 14, 2017 02:07am
These race issues come from foreign lands.. We in Pakistan are proud of our colors whether black brown or white.. "hum kalay hain tou kya hua dil walay hain". Some people want to be all this sensitive abt this since 'it's the thing' in the foreign lands, but please don't over hype this subject here in this country since it's not really an issue. From my side, it's a cover really well done, the makeup design and the concept are too good!
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JA-Australia Jul 14, 2017 02:18am
He could have picked ANY color which is not a real human color: purple, green, burgundy, ANYTHING. Sometimes, you just have to shake your head at some people's cluelessness.
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Shoaib Jul 14, 2017 02:32am
Nothing wrong with this.
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farouq omaro Jul 14, 2017 09:43am
Next time just pick a dark-skinned model.
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subZ Jul 14, 2017 10:13am
Dawn has serious issues with not publishing comments that disagree with their notion of good/bad. I am going to resubmit what I said before on this topic and hope Dawn will do the right thing ! Let people express their views . Here it goes: Why we look at race relations from the perspective of American and European audience ? In US and EU, yes, a blacked face will be deemed offensive. This is because of the long history of slavery and the subjugation of black man for centuries by white man. Further, there was a belief that black population is savage and in some places blacks were considered sub-human. There were festivals where blacked face white kids would portray the black people as savages. BUT Pakistan does not share that history (and the guilt !) with USA and EU. We do not have this racial tension in our society and did not take part in slave trade. And artist blacked the face of a model for sake or art , he/she should not be ridiculed - this is not the guilty west.
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Hassaan khalid Jul 17, 2017 01:31am
I don't think there is anything wrong with this. It's artistic expression, let it flow freely. If you can paint someone red to express one thing then you can paint someone black as well. It's subtle, it's simple, it speaks volume. People are reading it wrong.
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zeeshan Jul 17, 2017 05:10pm
If you want you can make a non issue, issue, otherwise he has shown black beauty or black beautifully. thumbs up
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Alee hassan Jul 18, 2017 09:04am
@Syed Tajgeer thanks for understanding
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Alee hassan Jul 18, 2017 09:06am
@subZ thanks
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Alee hassan Jul 18, 2017 09:15am
Thanks everyone who understand my point of view owards art.i have no right to criticise any colour any person.for me every colour and every human is equal.i love all the colours.i am not racist.if painting a human is called racism then every other person should banned who inject to make somebody white. I am human and i love humanity please for Allah sake dont create issue towards colours. Love every colour. Peace
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Alee hassan Jul 18, 2017 09:18am
Thanks everyone who understand my point of view owards art.i have no right to criticise any colour any person.for me everycolour and every human is equal.i love all the colours.i am not racist.if painting a human is called racism then every other person should banned who inject to make somebody white. I am human and i love humanity please for Allah sake dont create issue towards colours. Love every colour. Peace
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