Designer Prabal Gurung responded to accusations that his namesake brand photoshopped an Indigenous land recognition sign from two images in its Resort 2022 lookbook, which was released earlier this week.
On Tuesday afternoon, Prabal Gurung released the new collection which was inspired by Chinatown’s culture and the wave of social movements sparked over the past year. As Gurung explained in the collection notes: “[Chinatown] is a whole community that shows the great character of New York City, full of true New Yorkers, often overlooked.”
Following the release, ethnographer Diane Wong took to Twitter to compare an image showing a model in a design by Prabal Gurung against a red brick wall in Chinatown’s Mosco street with a photo of the area in real life. While a sign recognizing New York City as Indigenous land appears on the brick wall in the latter image, the signage is missing from the image used in Gurung’s lookbook.
As if it wasn’t bad enough fashion designers use Chinatown as a backdrop and people as photoshoot props, designers like @prabalgurung are now erasing our bilingual land acknowledgements that pay respect to the Lenape people and their enduring relationship with lenapehoking pic.twitter.com/olnEoegEgk
— Diane Wong (@XpertDemon) June 23, 2021
“We acknowledge with respect the Lenape peoples’ historic and enduring relationship with Lenapehoking, where New York City sits,” reads the sign. “Our vision of safety for Chinatown communities is interconnected with Indigenous flourishing and self-determination.”
The sign is part of a larger mural by W.O.W Project, a women-, queer-, and trans-led community initiative that aims to grow and protect Chinatown’s culture and history. In a statement to Refinery29, the W.O.W Project said: “‘In the Future Our Asian Community is Safe’ is a mural on Mosco St. in Manhattan’s Chinatown by non-binary Asian artist, Jess X. Snow, imagining a future where we transcend white supremacy and anti-Asian violence.” (Refinery29 reached out to Snow and they declined to comment.)
The statement continued: “After celebrating the unveiling of this beautiful portal with our Pan Asian and Indigenous community two weeks ago, it feels especially harmful that designer Prabal Gurung intentionally erased our Indigenous land acknowledgment — the first bilingual one of its kind in the neighborhood — from his recent photos of his new collection. Indigenous land cannot be erased and Chinatown is not a backdrop for capital gain. It is unfortunate that this act of erasure has distracted us from the intention of this mural. We simply want to recenter the conversation back to this intention: creating a healing space for our community.”
On Friday, Prabal Gurung provided Refinery29 with the following statement that he asked to be published in full:
During the past few years, activists have pushed for a call to acknowledge the colonization of Indigenous land in the United States, while there has also been a larger call for solidarity between AAPI and BIPOC communities to address social and political injustices together.
The area the Lenape people occupied before English and Dutch settlers forced them out was known as “Lenapehoking” and extended from New York City to Philadelphia, including all of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and part of Delaware. In Lower Manhattan, the Lenape people were forced out by Dutch settlers, who, in the 1660s, built a wall on what’s now known as Wall Street.
New York’s Chinatown formed in the 1870s. But many Chinese immigrants were driven out west because of anti-Sino violence. In 1965, the end of immigration restrictions ushered in a wave of Chinese newcomers to the neighborhood, and by the 1980s, NYC’s Chinatown held the largest Chinese community in the United States.
Since the launch of his namesake brand in 2009, Prabal Gurung has centered identity and politics in his work. In 2017, sparked by the Trump administration’s attacks on women’s rights and immigrants, the designer showcased a collection full of slogan T-shirts emblazoned with phrases like “We should all be feminists” and “Girls just want to have fundamental rights.” The following year, the Nepalese-American designer took a stance on the lack of diversity in fashion, releasing an ad campaign for his fall 2018 collection, named “Stronger In Color,” in which he employed a predominantly Asian crew of creatives and models. Later, in 2019, he released a collection that explored American identity through the question “Who gets to be American?” which models donned on sashes for the show’s finale. Back then, he told Refinery29: “For me, being an activist is a part of my identity.”
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