It's been over a year and a half since the gruesome rape and murder of a young Indian woman on a bus in New Delhi, a tragic event that shocked people in India and around the world into taking a hard look at rape and sexual assault in India. Now, one artistically inclined man has taken it upon himself to use the brutal and inhumane attack as inspiration for a fashion shoot.
"The Wrong Turn," a photo series by Mumbai-based fashion photographer Raj Shetye features a clearly upper class woman in chic fashion being grabbed and assaulted by multiple men on a bus. While Shetye claims that he did not base the series off Nirbhaya, the victim of the Delhi bus attack, the similarities are striking.
But what's more striking is how glammed up the whole series is. Shetye claims that while he used top designers, none are credited—this project was in no way meant for commercial purposes and was not meant to glamorize rape, despite the aesthetic indicating otherwise. (Because we all know how very well it goes when people doll up violence against women in order to "raise awareness.") Besides, apparently he came up with the idea two years ago, before the attack (so he has dibs on the concept?) and took his time with the shoot because he "didn't want to create something irresponsible."
Shetye told BuzzFeed:
"This is in no way meant to glamorize the act, which was very bad," Shetye told BuzzFeed. "It's just a way of throwing light on it."
…"The concept is my baby, " he said, "And the aim is to create art that will gather some reaction in society."
"The message I would like to give is that it doesn't matter who the girl is," he said. "It doesn't depend on which class she belonged in – it can happen to anyone…We stay in a society where rich people roam in cars, and poor people who roam in public transport are in danger," he continued. "It was my intent to mix these two things which are pretty apart from each other and make aesthetically strong images about it."
Oh great, it's a remark on classism as well. As Rega Jha at Buzzfeed points out, people, understandably pissed, took to Twitter to voice various degrees of disgust with the shoot. And the pictures, which were posted to Shetye's Behance page, have been taken down. Meanwhile, he stated:
"On a personal level, too, I got many reactions. On my Facebook, from my friends. It makes me feel satisfied about my work – at least the work I did is so impactful that I'm able to shed some light on this. I don't feel happy, but it makes me feel satisfied. That whatever I've tried to communicate is being communicated."
I highly doubt Shetye's work is having the impact he thinks it's having. It's not like deciding not to credit fashion designers featured in the shoot is the one thing keeping this from being a glamorization of an attack that completely shocked the world with its brutality and inhumanity. The couture is there. The models are there. The whimsical high fashion aesthetic that parallels themes of actual controversial advertisements is there. And he is clearly capitalizing on the Nirbhaya attack, whether or not he means to.
Shetye is most certainly entitled to his artistic freedom, but he may as well have done a self portrait series of him with his head up his ass running around with a hot fire iron. The work is not impactful in a meaningful way, and the fact that he must go out of his way to explain it proves that it just doesn't hold up on its own.
Images via BuzzFeed/Behance.net