Arnd Schneider, Appropriation as Practice. Art and Identity in Argentina, New York 2006, pp. 77-98.


Fashion photography and constructions of indigeneity in Argentina

This paper examines representations of race in Huellas (2000), a calendar by Argentinian fashion photographer Gaby Herbstein in which fashion models represent different indigenous cultures of Argentina. Although Huellas allegedly attempts to celebrate Amerindian communities and criticise Argentina’s racial politics, the photographs reinforce stereotypical constructions of indigeneity through the reproduction of white fantasies of possession and mastery. However, I argue that the images allow an additional reading as a site of ambivalence in which the possibility of a critique of Argentina’s racism can emerge. This is because the camp performance of indigeneity by the fashion models and the absence of the real Amerindian body expose the models’ whiteness, thus de-naturalising the racist politics that positions white as a neutral and as norm.

Gaby Herbstein is one of Argentina’s most renowned fashion photographers and her work has achieved recognition in the art circuit both in Argentina and abroad, including exhibitions at Art Basel and Art Miami. Each year the Herbstein studio prepares a calendar with a specific theme. The 2000 edition, entitled Huellas (Traces), was dedicated to the indigenous groups that inhabited and inhabit what is present-day Argentina: Toba, Wichí, Chané, Guaraní, Tehuelche, Mapuche, Yámana, Kolla, Diaguita, Huarpe, Abipón and Selk’nam. It was shot in studio using props that supposedly recreated the landscapes and world-view associated to each community. Each month corresponds to a specific group represented by a famous female model in traditional attire.

In Appropriation as Practice, Arnd Schneider devotes a chapter to Huellas and points towards the obviously problematic aspect of making a calendar to celebrate indigenous cultures but yet choosing to shoot white models instead of indigenous women. [1] However, he fails to elaborate this any further, sidelining the connections between Huellas and post-modern discourses of multiculturalism that, while advocate racial diversity, at the same time reinforce racial exclusion. But what is more, I argue that the calendar allows a more complex reading. In this article I will show that, although the calendar reproduces historical racial stereotypes, it also allows a possible interstice in which forms of questioning Argentina’s racial politics and indigenous people’s subaltern status could emerge. The following photographs are illustrative of the calendar’s style.

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