Sudanese Australian Model Ajak Deng is one of the biggest alt-models of the 2000’s. Discovered in 2008 in Melbourne Australia, where she relocated to after fleeing the civil war in Sudan with her family, Deng gained popularity partly for being part of the Dinka triumvirate – Super model Alek Wek and Deng’s friend Ataui Deng make up the other super models of Dinka heritage- and partly for her characteristically dark skin and prominent facial features.
Along with Wek and Deng she helped open up international fashion to women of colour who according to prevalent beauty standards at the time, would have been considered unattractive.
Yesterday Ajak Deng announced her retirement via Instagram, abruptly ending a career that has spanned nine years and several high profile break throughs front campaigns for highly influential designers and retailers.
Put your best foot forward. I am happy to announce that I am officially done with the fashion industry, I will be moving back to Australia In order to live the life that I fully deserved. Which is real life. I can no longer deal with the fakes and the lies. My life is too short for this dramatic life. I am thankful and grateful for every sweet souls that I have crossed path with. 😘😘✌🏿️🙌🏿🙌🏿🙌🏿🙌🏿✌🏿✌🏿
Deng directly attributes her decision to the years of racial microaggression and outright racism she has faced as a model of colour, a phenomenon that has strongly advocated against black and Asian models and industry professionals. There are only a handful of black designers at the helm of major fashion houses in the world, ‘Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain, Maxwell Osborne and Da Yi Chow at DKNY and Grace Wales Bonner’s eponymous line.
Deng has been one of the more vocal models speaking against the systematic racism that denies models of colour the chance to succeed in the industry, especially in Australia where agencies would rather pay a lot of money to bring foreign Caucasian models than use an Australian model of colour.
With several Nigerian models of colour gaining popularity in the modelling industry, it becomes imperative that we speak against this, before they too are frustrated into leaving a job they love and are good at. We never want another model of colour to ever feel as alienated as Ajak Deng did.