Due to the current influx of AI-generated versions of real-life photos through applications such as Lensa AI. it is even more difficult to distinguish between these images and AI-generated images. let alone AI black models.
Across the world, creatives and the general public are embracing AI as a means to simplify their lives. However, when AI is used in an indirect manner to represent a minority. Such as the black community, there is controversy about the concept behind the creation. Shudu Gram is one such example.
Who is Shudu Gram?
On a closer look, you’ll believe Shudu Gram is human considering the perfection of her artistry. From her luminous dark-brown skin and perfectly symmetrical features, Shudu is beautiful.
Introduced to the world as a South African from the Ndebele tribe, and strategically joining conversations on black women and people of colour, Shudu’s communications follow hashtags such as #blackisbeautiful, #melanin, and #blackgirlsrock.
As a platform that features pictures and videos mostly, Shudu builds a huge following on Instagram within days, growing her following to 239K followers as of December 2022.
Within the first two years of her career, she was featured in Vogue, Hypebeast, V Magazine, and Women’s Wear Daily, fronted campaigns for Balmain and Ellesse, and graced the red carpet at the 2019 British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) wearing a bespoke gown by Swarovski.
With AI characters like Shudu, it is noteworthy to point out that she not only appears to be Black but an indigenous African. It’s also important to note that she has European features, which could be due to her being created by a white man.
As her following grew, so did questions about her started popping up. She was not just an AI-generated black model, but her creator is white. People ask, “why would a white 28 old man create an AI Black model?” Questions like this sparked the Shudu Gram controversy conversations.
Sudu Gram Controversy
Cameron-James Wilson, a British photographer who is white and 28 years old, is the founder of Shudu. Black people think Wilson is only in it for the money he makes from Shudu. He, however, argues otherwise.
Shudu Gram is a work of art, according to him. Wilson appears to be motivated by a significant movement involving models with dark complexions as he attempts to bridge the gap between the modelling profession and his creativity.
Unbeknownst to Wilson, though, his artwork seems to imitate a pretty controversial history. A white artist by the name of Joe Scanlan once investigated “the cult of demographic authenticity” using the avatar Donelle Woolford, who was portrayed by numerous black women.
The Yams Collective, a group of black artists, withdrew in response to Scanlan’s selection for the 2014 Whitney Biennial because they believed that the possibility that AI would increase black artists’ “representation” would further diminish black personhood and belittle the idea of representation as a political or collective endeavour.
Wilson didn’t appear to have considered the possibility that he might be taking part in this legacy of racial expropriation. He, therefore, welcomes any argument or conversation that Shudu starts.
Wilson’s supporters contend that the tradition started by games like The Sims and Second Life, which have allowed users to design their own online avatars for almost two decades, is what justifies Wilson’s creation.
Shudu can be compared to more modern avatars in this way, such as the one in the animated music video for the song “Frontline” by the Ethiopian-American singer Kelela, where the artist’s image is depicted in chunky mid-aughts Sims graphics.
Black celebrities like Michael B. Jordan, Alicia Keys, Tyra Banks, and Naomi Campbell were among Shudu’s admirers. Naomi Campbell has previously criticized the fashion industry for its historical underrepresentation of black people, saying of black models, “We don’t want to be a fad.” How many women of colour are Wilson’s digital supermodel’s detractors?
How did Wilson create Shudu Gram?
After spending five years exploring London and working as a fashion photographer there (he has done advertising work for Fabergé and photoshoots with the model Thea Owens for Look), he returned to his hometown of Weymouth and made the decision to concentrate on art rather than money.
He experimented with painting Barbie dolls’ faces and arranging them to look like models. Later, he downloaded the free Daz 3D program, which is well-liked among special effects creators and offers an “asset store” where users may buy people and things for virtual settings.
Before moving on to Daz 3D and humanoids, he practised with the 3-D software Blender, generating “cups of coffee and pastries.” Shudu intentionally mimics real-life models; Iman’s stunning deep sockets served as inspiration for her eyes. Born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid, Iman is a Somali fashion model.
Wilson, though, was greatly influenced by a limited-edition Barbie doll called Princess of South Africa, who, like Shudu, wears neck jewellery.
What does the future look like for black models?
Shudu raises several issues regarding diversity versus fetishism in the fashion industry, as well as the emergence of AI in the industry.
Is Wilson’s idealistic fantasy of Shudu just a representation? Shudu’s role in the black community may seem charitable, but is she just another example of how white people have romanticized and fascinated other races, ethnicities, and cultures for a long time?
In considering these issues, it is important to keep in mind that there aren’t many opportunities available for black models in the industry, and Grams’s presence will make it even more difficult.