August seems to be a terrible, trying month for luxury fashion magazines in the country. First Vogue managed to irritate the easily irritable among us with its decision to feature Suhana Khan on its cover, anointing her a future star. Scarcely a week later, Cosmopolitan has managed to stir the controversy pot with equal vigor, with cover girl Kriti Sanon posing next to a taxidermied giraffe at Aynhouse Park, a 17th Century estate and country house.
Sanon is seen petting the giraffe while posing for the cover. For some inexplicable reason, the long-dead giraffe is seen floating mid-air, tied to balloons — a fact that Cosmopolitan has made it a point to highlight on Instagram. “Not hanging, heavens no!” The magazine exclaimed, while trying to explain away the questionable aesthetic of the cover.
“I’m not someone who gets angry easily, but when I read about atrocities against women, it really upsets me.” Meet our cover girl @kritisanon being her candid self in our August issue._ PS: Aynhoe Park features taxidermy, hundreds of years old, most from museums. Taxidermy is the art of preserving an animal that died of natural causes, for academic purposes. The giraffe featured here is floating (not hanging, heavens no!) with balloons on its back. An art installation, in what is possibly one of the eclectic yet most majestic mansions in the world. PPS: Cosmo loves, no, is obsessed with animals. We were, possibly, the first magazine in India to ban the featuring of fur, three years ago. No animals were harmed before, during, or after this shoot. We may be guilty of watching too many puppy videos during work hours, though. Photograph: @andrewwoffinden; styling: @zunailimalik; hair: @aasifahmedofficial; makeup: @adrianjacobsofficial using @facescanada; location courtesy: @aynhoepark; production: @viennafilms Kriti is wearing – high neck top, @hm; pants, @431_88; stilettos, Red Label Collection, @bata.india; necklace: @swarovski #KritiSanon #OnlyInCosmo #CosmoIndia
People aren’t pleased, because two years ago, the humble giraffe’s status changed from species of ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
In face of the swift, acerbic, and undoubtedly unexpected backlash, Kriti’s response was, “It was a normal photoshoot in a palace kind of hotel in London; the decor was in the wildlife zone. It’s all fake. I am an animal lover.”
This is what one would call a masterclass in how to spectacularly miss the point and making a statement without actually understanding what the problem is. Did Kriti really think that the photo was distressing people because they thought a real, live giraffe had been suspended in air to highlight her never-ending legs?
No Kriti, the point is not whether the animal is fake or real, the point is what the image represents — human ability and proclivity to capture, subjugate, and even kill animals in order to turn them into trophies they can pose with. And no, the fact that the giraffe is taxidermied does not make it ‘fake’ or okay to use as a prop, it just makes it that much more grotesque, given the long, cruel and bloody history of big game and trophy hunting by wealthy people, just so they can mount the carcasses on their walls. That’s not “wildlife zone decor”, as you’d like to call it, but a thoughtless display that glorifies a filthy tradition of animal abuse in environments like the one you were photographed in.
Kriti’s cluelessness is not just matched, but exceeded by Cosmo India’s lame attempts at airy light-heartedness. The magazine describes taxidermy as the “art of preserving an animal that died of natural causes, for academic purposes.” It is true that museums use taxidermy so that they can maintain a record of as many species as possible that have roamed the earth, its use isn’t, and hasn’t, been restricted to academia. Even a cursory Google search on taxidermy will reveal its deep historical roots in preserving animal bodies to be used as mounts. And while that may no longer be its most prevalent use anymore, thanks to the attention that atrocities against animals has received, to claim it is some noble endeavour in service of knowledge is being wilfully deceptive and crudely opportunistic, on the magazine’s part.
Cosmo calls the taxidermied giraffe an art installation, and sure, it may be art for the people who see nothing wrong with decorating their walls with animal remains, but for the rest of us it absolutely isn’t. The purpose of art is to make us question, introspect, dig deep, and find cultural relevance by contextualising it in current reality. Stripped of context, art is meaningless, which it should never be. Would you go to a Holocaust museum and pose next to an Aushwitz oven while pretending to bake cookies?
It is a promising sign that so many people find this portrayal of a helpless animal unsettling and objectionable. Because they, unlike Cosmo India, get that art, especially the contentious kind that makes use of a living being’s mortal remains, cannot be used as an exotic prop. How difficult is it to understand just that much?
Dear Cosmo, next time, try getting your cover girl to pose with a living, breathing animal, if you’re so committed to the cause of zoology, yes?.
PS: Watching puppy videos at work doesn’t make you an animal lover. It just makes you someone with a lot of free time and a good Internet plan.