• Beyond the Canvas

Women as icons and targets

Revered by the public, reviled by the art establishment and eventually sold at auction for almost £1m, the Mona Lisa of kitsch was painted by a rather obscure Russian-born artist who had emigrated to South Africa. The sitter of this portrait is Monika Sing-Lee, 17 at the time, who was working at Tretchikoff's uncle’s launderette. This highly idealised icon of oriental beauty is said to be the most reproduced fine art prints in the world. Her bizarrely luminescent complexion and shimmering silk robe have adorned the living room walls of countless suburban homes in the 1950s and 1960s. With her lustrous black hair and sensuous red pout, and bar for that outlandish skin colour, she embodied the classic pin-up. So yes, to millions, she was an exotic object of desire, a fetish.


It's been an exhausting and alarming couple of weeks in terms of crimes against women in the media. Then again, I cannot remember the last time it wasn't.

Two days ago, a gunman killed 6 Asian-American women working at massage parlours in the Atlanta area. The suspect maintains his actions were not racially motivated. He allegedly targeted these women because they were a temptation for his sexual addiction. Sure, they were the problem.


Let me tell you what I see here. This killing spree smacks of racism, sexism and hatred towards sex workers (it is unclear whether the victims were in that line of business, but it's possible) all bundled up together. Crimes against the Asian community in general have gone up by 150% in the last 2 years and there is no question that the former president's racist rhetoric has fanned the flames. When it comes to these women, they are often trafficked and forced to work underground. Unless and until the industry is decriminalised, they will remain vulnerable and reluctant to report any crimes against them.


But what hope is there to unravel this systemic sexualised racism problem when law enforcement spokespeople think it's okay to say that the shooter was having 'a bad day'? Honestly, I despair.


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Vladimir Griegorovich Tretchikoff

Chinese Girl, 1951

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