Furniture isn’t often the subject of global controversy, which is a scandal in its own right.
But this week a humble chair was the centre of international outrage when Dasha Zhukova, a gallery owner and girlfriend of real-life James Bond villain Roman Abramovic, was photographed sitting on a piece of furniture that looks like a black woman tied up with her legs in the air.
While a human race wired up to instant outrage via social media hasn’t come out of this brouhaha looking particularly good, furniture has emerged looking magnificent. I always had a lot of respect for furniture by never putting my feet on somebody’s sofa if I was wearing shoes, but this non-scandal has instilled in me an even greater level of respect for furniture and the complex socio-political messages it invariably contains.
Without even going near a lot of old furniture’s colonial history, which is splattered with blood and oppression (leave that to the Antiques Roadshow), anyone who has a Google alert set up for “offensive furniture,” or even “racist furniture” (frankly, who hasn’t?) will know that this is far from the first time chairs, drawers or even curtains have been rude or offensive.
Catherine the Great was rumoured to have died while attempting to have sex with a horse. So it’s perhaps not surprising that if any 18th Century monarch would be a collector of pornographic furniture, it would be her.
When Soviet soldiers raided a palace in St Petersburg during the Second World War, they discovered that Catherine had a vast collection of smutty nick-nacks, sculptures and accoutrements which included tables held aloft by ejaculating dicks and a whole wall of phalluses, as well as chairs adorned with carvings of women sucking cock and having their bits licked by goblins.
Here is the detail of a chair, which shows a woman giving fellatio:
A goblin performs cunnilingus on one of Catherine the Great’s pieces of furniture:
The fashioning of furniture to look like genitals really took off in the world of modern art. But was Salvador Dali being typically surreal with his Mae West Lips Sofa, or was he objectifying women?
Who knows. And frankly, who cares.
The idea of a lips-based couch has, however, spawned many imitators, from the Mars bar adverts to some people who’ve decided to make sofas that look like the other pair of lips one finds on a lady. Below is a “vagina couch” which was sold by someone in Michigan, USA on Craigslist in 2008. The back-piece has been subtly rendered to create the illusion of labia.
Slightly less subtle – and less comfortable – is this pathetic attempt at a vagina recliner, which draws a rather ugly, and one hopes unintended, comparison between a woman’s reproductive organs and a dust bin.
From this angle you can’t even tell that it’s meant to be used for sitting on.
And there are cushions to go with it. This one comes with a pouch for a vibrator.
Having elderly relatives round for tea? Why not invite them to sit on your sofa made from a real coffin? The red ones look like they belong in one of the world’s most famous pre-morgues, the UK House of Lords:
The coffin chair also looks good in blue.
Alternatively you could give your living room a morbid twist with this imitation electric chair, brought to you by the folks at Dapper Cadaver. This imitation Old Sparky execution tool costs $700.
This rather bland-looking home furniture range wasn’t designed to shock. As it says, “Paula Deen’s River House Collection captures the beauty, history and hospitality of gracious life on the Savannah River.” But don’t forget racism.
“Romantic and flowing, these elegant chiffon window treatments finish a room with the perfect statement.” Indeed, the kind of person who would buy from the Paula Deen range for ideological reasons will probably want to make a statement with a set of Confederate flag curtains.
“When you buy from me, you get a chicken box free,” says a man portraying the “Special Man”, Frank Tapani, owner of Frankie and Johnny’s furniture store in New Orleans in this crazy commercial from the late 1990s. The chicken in and of itself may not be such a clincher, considering customers have to spend $1,000 dollars to receive 10 pieces of chicken, but combined with offers of credit to bankrupts and people on social security, it’s clear which demographic these tasteless ads were aimed at.
Colours and tones are not in themselves racist, but when a sofa whose colour is described as “Nigger brown” turns up at your door, and when your black seven-year-old daughter reads the label, that is some edgy homewear. The shop in Toronto that sold Doris Moore the sofa claimed in 2007 that the “nigger brown” sofa had been a best seller, and the owner of the store, Romesh Vanaik, didn’t know what the word meant despite living in America since 1972. He blamed the Chinese suppliers, who blamed a fault with their translation software, naturally.
IKEA is a multi-billion-pound Swedish behemoth that revolutionised furniture by making customers build it themselves. But it isn’t as well-known as it should be that the IKEA empire as it stands today was built on the back of the slave labour of East German political prisoners, who were forced to work in factories building IKEA furniture in the 1970s by the East German state.
When the Red House, a furniture store in the US tried to confront the complex web of prejudice embroiled in furniture with an explicit anti-racist ad campaign which claimed that people of ALL ETHNICITIES could, and frequently did, enjoy sitting on its sofas and chairs, it was still accused of racism.
Just goes to show, if your furniture’s not shocking, you’re not doing it right.