09 May

Shudu Gram, the virtual top model who’s ruffling feathers


Perfection generated though using special effects. This was the challenge of photographer Cameron-James Wilson who’s given the world Shudu Gram, a virtual black model who has quickly become a superstar on Instagram. A thundering success that doesn’t have everyone in agreement.

By Alexis Thibault


With the allure of Grace Jones, the gaze of Alek Wek, the charm of Duckie Thot and the body of a South African Barbie… As delicate as she is volcanic, Shudu Gram might well sound the end of modelling as we know it. This explosive cocktail is the work of London-based photographer Cameron-James Wilson, who has already immortalised Gigi Hadid and the American singer Pia Mia. In a world where the real gets increasingly confused with the fake, he has created Shudu Gram, a 28-year old model who is completely virtual, and who within the space of just a few months has become an Instagram star. But at a time when influencers reign supreme, this artificial woman is ruffling feathers. Because apart from being a beauty queen with 106,000 followers, Shadu Gram is a fantasy, her creator’s masterpiece, but above all she is a black – fake – woman. A muse for some, too much for others, ever since the launch of her Instagram account in April 2017, the model has been a talking point on social networks, from accusations of racism to the fears linked to dematerialisation of the body. 



 For some the Shudu’s ebony skin is an accessory, with a trend status, one that exists in fashion thanks only to an exotic appearance.

Like Lil Miquela, another 100% virtual influencer with more than a million followers on Instagram, Shadu Gram has been created entirely using special effects. As the first ever digital top model, Miquela was chosen by Rihanna in February to present her Fenty Beauty line of make-up. In terms of nowness, it couldn’t be closer to the target. But Shudu Gram is unsettling. Some people believe her creation could damage the image of real black models: ebony skin as an accessory, with a trend status, that exists in fashion thanks only to its exotic appearance. “Is it really that difficult to pay an actual black woman for a shoot rather than create one?” is the kind of commentary we’re seeing online that discredits the Shudu Gram project. The other issue also raised by the English photographer’s creation is the dematerialising of the body: many internet users are denouncing this oeuvre because “real black models” exist and should be prioritised. Something of a paradox really when we consider how much Instagram photos are actually doctored by their most popular stars… Ultimately because Cameron-James Wilson has created the “perfect body” deemed as archetypal by brands and the world of advertising, he has perhaps entered a new era: that of virtual models with a monumental influence, as docile as they are artificial. O, brave new world…