Behind Cosmo UK’s Honor Killings Protest “Cover” Photograph

Posted by on Tuesday January 20, 2015 | Media


This mock-up of a Cosmopolitan UK cover features an image from a series of photographs created by artist Erin Mulvehill.

Last week a mock Cosmopolitan UK cover that sought to protest honor killings drew attention and praise online. Honor killing is a horrific practice in which family members kill one of their own, often a daughter, who is perceived to have brought shame on a family.

The Cosmo UK mock cover depicts what appears to be a woman suffocating. In images of the cover circulated by the magazine and Leo Burnett Change, the agency that designed the cover, the issue is sealed in plastic bags, completing the impression that the woman on the cover is being asphyxiated. The cover was inspired by the 2004 murder of 17-year-old British Pakistani teen Shafilea Ahmed; Ahmed’s parents suffocated her in front of her siblings for perceived offenses that included refusing an arranged marriage. Ahmed’s parents were later convicted of murder.

After several outlets reported that the design would appear on the February issue, Cosmopolitan UK clarified that the cover was just a mock-up, created as part of a campaign the magazine is working on with UK women’s rights organization Karma Nirvana. (The actual February cover featured Khloe Kardashian.)

The provenance of the photograph depicting the suffocating woman is also interesting. The black-and-white photograph used in the mock-up is part of “Underwater,” a fine-art series created by Brooklyn-based photographer Erin Mulvehill in 2009. The images in Mulvehill’s series depict women who appear to be floating underwater, many with their hands pressing out towards the viewer.

An art buyer at Leo Burnett UK approached Mulvehill about using one of her images in mid-2014. After she was filled in on the creative concept, Mulvehill agreed to contribute her photograph. “I felt very fortunate to have been brought onboard and have the opportunity to contribute my imagery to this charity project,” the photographer told PDN via email.

Mulvehill says she was inspired to created her “Underwater” series by the idea that most people “have had an emotional experience that resonates deep within us,” which is hard to express verbally.

By contributing to the project, Mulvehill says she’s become “entrenched” in the cause of protesting honor killings and supporting organizations like Karma Nirvana, which aims to help victims of forced marriage and honor crimes. “I urge everyone to strongly consider donating to [Karma Nirvana],” she says.

To have an opportunity to contribute to a campaign addressing a critical social issue “is really as good as it gets for me as an artist and human being,” Mulvehill says. “We all want to make a difference regarding social issues we care about,” she adds. “ I hope this Cosmopolitan cover helps raise some awareness [of] the terrible practices that are going on against women—and also against men as I learned from online research—in the U.K. and around the world.”