Wednesday 20 December 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #13 - I'm not really into black girls but...

I'm still looking for stories of racial fetishisation from women of colour for The Hidden Pin Up project. I am transferring them onto the hessian feathers of the burlesque fans I have made that will be danced with by Manchester's House of Ghetto as part of a performance exploring the history of the black Pin Up.

Below is one of the most recent responses I've had. If this rings any bells with you, get in touch and tell me your story! You can share anonymously in the comments section of this blog or message me on my Facebook page. Contributions posted on my blog will be anonymous. To find out more about this project search this blog for The Hidden Pin Up series.

My experience has mainly been in the work place and passing/sweeping statements about my culture/hair, and just my work colleague’s lack of understanding and ignorance of black culture and heritage. 

So for example I am the only POC in my office and I have comments like ‘how do you get your hair like that', ‘can you brush it’, ‘what happens when it gets wet’ ‘can you tie it in a bobble’, ‘can i touch your hair’ , ‘never realised it was that soft’. 

I could go on and on but they are some of the daily micro-aggressions I have encountered. 

Friday 1 December 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #12 - You can be my mocha

I am getting some great stories in from my call out for your tales of black fetishisation for The Hidden Pin Up project, thank you, please keep them coming. 

The title of this post is from one of those stories, in fact the first one one I collected and I think it perfectly encapsulates the preconceived notions and misjudged ideas many black females face on an everyday basis. 

The article 'Is your sexual desire for black people racist' from states,

'When you focus on stereotypes instead of treating a person like an individual shaped by their heritage, background, and unique experiences, that person becomes an extension of your imagination'

...and what poor and filthy imaginations some people have as shown below in the message I had sent in today. 

Please contact me to share your own experiences of black fetishisation, all messages will be posted anonymously and may be used as part of the art work for this project. Check out The Hidden Pin Up posts on this blog to find out more:

Hey Gemma! I have a few gems for you .... 😑 I've had a lifetime of it tbh but standout favourites include the classic: I'm not really into black girls but you're amazing

Also on tinder: 'I've never fucked a black girl before'

(and you never will :))

Recently from a white guy 'do you prefer white guys?'??? is he asking 'am I a racist'


At a bar one time with my then boyfriend: 'What's a sexy sister like you doing with a white guy'

Frequently being addressed as 'Sista' bc we are all sassy charactures and love to be called that by white guys...

Also 'I bet you're a tiger in the sack' and other variations on that, though Idk if that's race related or just general gross

Wednesday 22 November 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #10 - Meeting with The House of Ghetto

Today I traveled to STUN Studios in Hulme to meet Darren Pritchard the House of Ghetto's house mother and House of Ghetto (HOG) dancer Lenai who will be dancing with my hemp burlesque fans for my Hidden Pin Up project. I was so excited!

It was great to chat about the project and see how the fans looked in hold which also gave me a chance to see how they handled. The fans are unfinished as yet because I still plan on embroidering words and phrases into the feathers which will be inspired by true stories of black fetishisation. 

While at the studio I got my first story from Darren as he recounted how Lenai's sister had been dating a guy who told her 'You can be my mocha'. Not only is this totally cringe worthy it's also a perfect example how black women can still being treated as 'exotics' and further highlights how the stereotypes given to the black Pin Up from the vintage era have survived today.

We also discussed costume ideas and I took some measurements of Lenai for the outfit I am currently putting together. My designs are based on examples that are blatantly not authentic but a western amalgamation of 'black/savage looks' used in mainstream films and pop culture. 

I want to keep the look vintage Pin Up but also have that unsophisticated inauthentic theme. Everything will be made from hemp to complete the raw primitive aesthetic behind the fans. I am loving how the hemp can be sculpted, frayed and cut to create different shapes and also the various connotations it brings up about black stereotypes and black history.


It was really great to move this project onto it's next phase and I am loving every minute of it. I'm hoping to share some of the stories I collect in my upcoming posts and also how the outfit and fans progress. Until then get in touch with your own stories of black female fetishisation and stereotyping. Email with the title The Hidden Pin Up or find me on Facebook Gemma Parker Artist

Saturday 21 October 2017

Hocum Pokem


Last Saturday I went back in time to a place where witches are reborn, cats can talk and spell books have eyes! No, I wasn't watching 90's Disney classic Hocus Pocus, but sitting in the audience of the drag parody Hocum Pokem starring US drag royalty Peaches Christ and Jinkx Monsoon and UK female drag queen Holestar as that tricksy trio of witches The Manderson Sisters!

This wasn't my first time seeing a Peaches Christ Production, last year I watched her fantastic version of Return to Grey Gardens and way back in 2010 I was lucky enough to perform as a backing 'monster' in the UK premiere of Peaches film All About Evil at Manchester's Midnight Mass. With this is mind I was looking forward to something wickedly fabulous, and Hocum Pokem at the Contact Theatre Manchester, did not disappoint!

Sitting as part of a dressed up glamorous and ghoulish audience the show began with the capture and hanging of the Manderson's 300 years ago before we were quickly whisked to modern day 1993 where virgin Max, played expertly by comedian Kate McCabe, unwittingly lights the Black Flame Candle and brings the sisters sauntering back to life for one night only. The girls looked amazing with Peaches suiting the huge red curls and sparkling green gown of Bette Midler to a tee, while Jinkx looked every bit as sexy in the role made famous by Sarah Jessica Parker in the original film.

When Max and his little Cousin Wonderlette (I've never seen the like!) steal the spell book that could keep Peaches and her sisters alive forever they kicked off a series of events that bore close resemblance to the film yet took on a drag life of their own on stage. Handsome Billy Bitcherson was raised from the dead to give chase, and we were treated to the vocal talents of Holestar singing her own version of Proud Mary (she really can belt it out!). We also got treated to the local talents of dancing aces The Ultra Violets, and the storytelling/hosting skills of Manchester's Anna Phylactic.

With lots of improvisation and jokes, not to mention audience interaction, the show flew by and before I knew it the sun was rising and the sisters were forced to return to the dead, but not before another big showstopper!

Not wanting the make up and glitter to end and having been put in the mood for a serious dance we then attended the after show party 'Witch I'm Madonna' at Cruz101 where Peaches and Jinkx, in fabulous new attire, hosted a night of Madonna themed drag acts performed by local talent.

I have to say watching Jinkx Monsoon in any guise is a thrill! She just has something that captivates and yes, as my friend stated, gives major confused feelings. An impromptu dance to Vogue only made me love her more.

Nothing phased these US Qweens as they affectionately ribbed off each other. You can tell there is a lot of love and respect on and off stage and their adopted Manchester family certainly felt it too. If the audience reaction was anything to go by when we were asked what show we'd like to see next year, we may be treated to a drag version of Death Becomes Her! and as I can vouch, drag dreams do come true, bring on next October!

Tuesday 17 October 2017

The Hidden Pin Up # 9 - Burlesque fan experiment with hemp

I've spent a couple of weeks industriously fraying sackcloth to resemble ostrich feathers for my experiment making burlesque fans from hemp, and I now have my first complete fan.

I'm really pleased with how beautiful it looks and quite surprised too. It's very textural and immediately recognisable as a burlesque object, yet the different material makes you want to look closer.


Due to the hemp it is heavier than a usual feather fan but not too heavy to manipulate and wave and I'm interested to see how it handles and looks when being danced with. 

I created the feathers by using a real feather as a template to cut out the shape. I then stitched a thin piece of craft wire along the feather stem so that the feather would have some stability and bend into the shape I wanted once finished. 

Next I began to pull the edges apart, removing whole strands in places and creating fronds that mimicked the real feather. I found that this only worked if I cut the sacking on the cross in order for the frayed edges to create the right shape. Each feather is different and I like how that adds to the overall effect. I spent some time figuring out how to lay out each feather to make the most visual impact.

The fan worked best when I placed the feathers to reflect their natural bend. For instance I sorted feathers that bent to the right to lie on the left hand side of the fan so they would lean inwards. Straighter feathers I placed in the middle and left bending feathers I placed on the right. You can see how much better this looks than just laying the feathers out any old way.

 Feathers laid to bend inwards

Feathers laid in no order

I then used more craft wire to fix the feathers to the spokes of a 16" burlesque fan. I used two layers to get a fuller look.

My next thought is to experiment stitching into some of the feathers. I'm thinking of embroidering words that represent the stereotypes black Pin Up's of the past and black women today still have to face in mainstream culture. 

I'm making the fans to highlight the marginalised and primitive characterisation that have hidden the black Pin Up from view, so this will take a bit more research into what messages will work best, and I'd like to do some one on one chats to get first person experiences from women who have to deal with this regularly.

If you have any stories or info to share about your own experiences please get in touch. In the meantime I will be interviewing friends and seeing how the hemp takes to embroidery.

Thursday 28 September 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #8 - The Black Bunny

Today I learned that Hugh Hefner the founder of Playboy Magazine and head of the Playboy empire, has died aged 91.

Hefner has always been a controversial figure in women's history; he claimed to empower women by printing the first publication to accept that women had their own sexuality and sexual desires. This was at a time when women were very much boxed in and expected to follow the wife and mother role, staying demure and wholesome. His ethos worked alongside the growing women's movement by broadening women's outlooks and helped to kick-start the change in society's ideas about the choices a woman could make.

However it can't be overlooked that Hefner has been partly blamed for the ever growing sexualisation of women by viewing them only as sexual objects for the entertainment and pleasure of men. By promoting women's worth through their looks and sexual promise it is argued he has marginalised women's importance in society by perpetuating the idea of youth and beauty as their most important commodity.

Either way Hefner has left an undeniable mark on popular culture worldwide. He has always fascinated me and I have flipped from admiration to repulsion to somewhere in between the more I have learned about him. 

Say whatever you like about Hefner and his legacy, he was liberal enough to embrace all races in his magazine, opening up the pages to many black activists and entertainers long before other mainstream platforms followed suit. Martin Luther King, Ella Fitzgerald, Muhammed Ali, Sammy Davis Jr and Malcom X all frequented the publication at a time of civil unrest and racial divide.

In March 1965 Playboy published the first black model as it's centerfold. Jennifer Jackson was chosen as the first black Playmate of the month, a revolutionary move for a mainstream platform that catered for a white American male audience. As I have previously mentioned in other posts, when a black woman was celebrated in this manner for her beauty and not fetished for her race, it was a huge step towards narrowing the racial divide, regardless of the female objectification the era provided.

Interestingly, Jackson has since stated that she never thought that she was pretty, saying, 'there were so many other girls who were so much prettier than me. it's just white mans beauty is different to black mans beauty - I was tall and leggy, white men like that. Black men on the other hand like the girls who were short and had what they called "a brick house body". I didn't get any attention from the brothers. They liked the women who were short and shapely. So there was a different standard of beauty'.

Jackson was the first of a series of black Pin Ups to grace the magazine and work the Playboy clubs. She was followed by Jean Bell in 1969 as the second black Playmate of the month who also became the first black Playmate on the cover (all be it accompanied by four other models).

Then 1971 saw an iconic cover featuring African American model Darine Stern posing on the famous bunny head chair. She was the first black woman to take centre stage on the front of Playboy. With her huge Afro, and not much else she made a powerful statement about black culture moving into the mainstream after the height of the American Civil rights movement. 

This was a time where black culture was embracing its heritage and taking back control of the stereotypes white culture had used against it for centuries. Hence the Afro and a curvaceous figure were identified with power and pride by the black community.

Moving on 40 years or so, it's not that unusual to see a black bunny or Playmate these days, though still quite rare. Last year did see Eugenia Washington from America's next Top Model become Playboy's Playmate of the year but she was only the 3rd black woman to be named since the magazine's launch over 60 years ago!

With Hef now shuffling off this mortal coil, I do wonder what direction Playboy will take. He was always the compass for the magazine, steering it towards topical subjects, advocating freedom of speech and championing civil rights as well as pushing the seedier sexual element and churning out playmate after playmate. It will be interesting to watch how things progress now that his tight hold is gone. In a time of increasing intolerance to race and gender equality (watch the news, read a newspaper, it's there), I can't help thinking that losing Hefner at this point could go either way in terms of progress (as backwards as that sounds when speaking of a man who made his fortune from the flesh of women). 

If Playboy loses it's edge (as hidden by tits and big hair as it might have been), it would be a sad outcome for a magazine that since its birth, has consistently caused controversy by giving the world a broader idea of what the mainstream could look like. Lets hope whoever steps into his velvet slippers and smoking jacket has the vision and, please, the courage to keep pushing the boundaries of conservatism, but give women a real voice too.

Wednesday 6 September 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #7 - The project art work: ideas

Throughout my research into the history of the black Pin Up the aim has always been twofold: to educate myself and share what I learn and also to create a piece of art based on my findings. This was all inspired by Manchester's House of Ghetto, the black all female Vogue house who I saw perform at the Vogue Ball back in March.

 See more @gemma_parker_artist

Speaking with Darren Pritchard, their award winning choreographer and House Mother made me want to work with them and the 'the black Pin Up' was his suggestion for the starting point. Writing these blog posts over the past few months has been an interesting and fascinating journey.

For the art work, I want to make something that the dancers can move and dance with but could also be displayed as a standalone piece, and my immediate idea comes from the title of this project, The Hidden Pin Up. When I began my research I realised that even though she existed, the black Pin Up was hard to find, she was difficult to pick out and see against the more popular mainstream white Pin Up and the historic context in which she was based mostly altered her or blanked her out.

I began thinking of ways that I could literally cover up and obscure the dancers so that they were hidden from view but stay in keeping with the Pin Up aesthetic. One of the subjects I learned about that really caught my attention was Jean Idelle, the popular and successful burlesque 1950's dancer whose trademark routine was dancing with huge white feather fans. This was a great starting point.

I like the idea of using a traditional burlesque accessory but giving it a new twist. At first I thought of making fans out of canvas that I could paint onto, but I'm not sure which direction to take this into yet. The question is what to decorate the fans with?

I want to send a message with the piece about the misconceptions projected onto the black Pin Ups (and black women now to some degree). The big factor that has stood out throughout the whole project is how black women have been represented and disregarded in mainstream culture. Time and again the black female image is painted as primitive, uneducated, hyper sexual and angry (see past posts for more elaboration on this). 

My next idea was then to use the material of the fans themselves as the messenger. Rather than luxurious pure white feathers, the fans should be made of something that reflect the stereotype used in popular culture. Something rough and inexpensive with no finesse, and I thought that sackcloth/burlap would be perfect!

I like the texture and how it can be pulled apart and the frayed edges could be manipulated to imitate feathers. There are also a lot of historic and cultural connotations with this material that make it suitable to the work and the fact it is something that we connect with in many everyday situations yet take little notice of gives it a further layer of meaning. 

I really like the idea of making something that looks crude and uncultured that can then be interacted with to create something beautiful and refined.
So not only would the fans be working to cover and hide the dancer/model (and also reveal her) they will also be challenging the ideas that have kept the black Pin Up hidden from mainstream culture.

As a utility material, sacking has a lot of potential to be worked with, and makes a perfect counterpoint to the glamour of the Pin Up. I love this photo shoot of Marilyn making an old sack look sexy!

I have been researching how to make my own burlesque feather fans so my next step is to gather materials and start experimenting. I want to try making feathers from sacking, and also stitching into the weave and embellishing it too as well as giving embroidery a try (you can see examples of my other embroidery work HERE)

I'm really excited to see how it goes!

Wednesday 30 August 2017

The Hidden Pin Up #6 - The Black Fetish

Fetish - the pathological displacement of erotic interest and satisfaction to an object or bodily part whose real or fantasised presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Throughout my investigation into the history of the black Pin Up, it's been difficult not to notice a trend; The notion of claiming black females to be hyper-sexual and primitive because of their anatomy, and those ideas sticking as they have been represented through discourse and the media over the ages. From Sarah Baartman of the 19th Century, the earliest example I could find of a black woman being on display, through to the Afro Pin Up's of the 1970's, a similar narrative keeps being told and it relates to the white male audience...

 'They'll dazzle you... they'll stir your senses... luscious beauties of every shade'

It's the preconceived ideas and ideals based on centuries of racial bias and white privilege that set the black woman firmly apart from the white male making her a complete mystery and totally un-relatable to him. Through the white male gaze she becomes feisty, angry, primitive, uneducated and overtly erotic, she becomes a fetish.

These projected notions robbed the black sitter of her identity, her voice, and her agency in order to make her the acceptable version of the black ideal. There is an argument that all women are typecast to some degree in this fashion, but it is fair to say that when discussing issues of gender roles that mostly in this case, black Pin Up's have a different story to tell from their white counterparts.

While all Pin Ups, dancers, performers and models from the vintage era had to fit a prescriptive formula of safe Western feminine ideals in order to be admired for their beauty and talent (to a large extent this is still true), the black Pin Up also had the added hurdle of her skin colour, meaning that a further set of notions and margins were then (and to a large extent still can be) pasted onto her image setting the real women, and what she truly represented into an abstract that mostly never got considered.

In my last post I mentioned a 1940's actress by the name of Acquanetta who actively denied her black heritage in order to get film roles which wouldn't stereotype her despite her colour. She instead chose to take on the persona of a mysterious 'exotic', that while still typecast to some degree, didn't have the same negative stigma attached to it from a Western point of view.

Even though white women from the vintage era still had to compete with male dominance over their image they had somewhat more freedom to speak out about their thoughts and needs in the real world. The way the black Pin Up was characterised to a white audience meant she was subdued and marginalised by jokey and lazy stereotypes that took away her power. This lack of control on how she was represented was justified by making her more marketable to a mainstream audience. Take the example of 1930's performer Jeni LeGon from my first post. Despite her incredible talent for dancing, she was soon cast as the goony savage shimmying in feathers and a grass skirt before only ever getting roles as housemaids.

Black model with an angry expression teamed with leopard print and an African mask.

 This isn't to say ALL black Pin Up's were treated the same and mildly went about their business bowing to social pressure. As we have seen from past posts there are many examples of black women who succeeded in pin up careers despite racial prejudice or even using racial fetishes to their own ends by playing to stereotype and taking back control of their images.

Josephine Baker is the ultimate example of this as we have previously discussed in other posts. Her ability to give the audience what they wanted,becoming a symbol for black fetish,while being the architect of her own destiny makes her a massively important figure in the history of the black Pin Up and an icon to other black performer throughout the years. 

The boundaries of fetishisation of the black Pin Up began to blur in the 1970's when Blaxploitaion, a sub genre to exploitation films, exploded onto the scene. Blaxploitation films were made primarily for a black audience but its appeal soon spread to other races and ethnicity. In this case black culture took back control of the monikers that had been used to control it, much like Josephine Baker had previoulsy. Afro hair, large hoop earrings and voluptuous bodies became a form of self identity and reclamation of race.

Afro model. See more @gemma_parker_artist

However the movement began to suffer from the strong messages it was projecting alongside it's image. For some, the movement only perpetuated the black stereotypes held by white people and rather than giving empowerment, held the black community back. In an essay about Blaxploitation films Joanne Allen comments,

'Most of the women in blaxploitation films were reduced down to insignificant prostitutes or curvaceous women who flaunted all they had. Even while the movies main characters were women, they were still objectified and reduced down to loose, sexual and insatiable "hot mamas"'

The subject of black fetishism is a very complex one, in fact the positive and negative effects of Blaxploitation films are still being discussed to this day and the everyday fetishisation of colour continues in popular culture. Both Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus have been accused of fetishising black hip hop culture through their performances using cultural appropriation in costume and dance choices. Can anyone unsee Miley 'twerking' at the 2013 MTV awards or Katy doing this in her video for This Is How We Do?...

Interestingly, it does seem acceptable for white women to take on black cultural styles like cornrows and baby hair in the mainstream, but when black women do it, popular culture is divided, see my post about this HERE

In everyday life, racial fetishisation continues on a smaller stage and this is in most part, because of the stereotypes perpetuated throughout history and the lack of respect black culture is given on a wider platform which leads to ignorance and false presumptions. A quick search on the internet will bring up hundreds of sites discussing incidents where black women have been approached by or even dated men with a racial fetish. That isn't to say a 'preference' for black women, but men who have actively seeked and singled out a person because of her race and then unaware used micro-aggressions which demeaned, alienated or marginalised the women they were with. For example, 'You're [insert positiive adjective] for a black girl, or 'You're not like other black people'. One account I read said, 'He kept touching my hair without my consent, was legitimately disappointed that I could not twerk, and called me “sassy” whenever I voiced an opinion that was different from his'. Presuming she was feisty and overtly sexual, does this sound familiar? 

Out of all the posts I've done about the history of the black Pin Up, this one has by far been the hardest to write and the longest to put down into words. While I have always been aware of race and the issues it can bring up, writing as a white female I have had to really learn and think as I type, putting my findings down so that I would understand them and so that they hit the right note. It has also made me question cultural appropriation, and when does taking inspiration from a culture become a negative thing? Does it depend on the tone, sensitivity or context and is it always wrong to do it no matter what race you are? Maybe these are things to discuss in another post.

I know that the subject of racial fetishisation goes WAY deeper than the things I've discussed, covering different races and all genders, but for this project I have tried to keep it focused on the vintage Pin Up and the things I have discovered along the way. I hope that although basic, this post still manages to convey some of the difficulties that arose during the era and how they weave into the historic and ongoing prejudices that black women still face today.

Here are some of the websites I have used in my research (the ones I can remember), which give a much fuller picture on the subject: