I was watching a documentary by Chris Rock called ‘Good Hair’ and honestly, if you haven’t had the opportunity you should give it a watch. It stuck with me that his tiny daughter was so concerned about her hair and that if it wasn’t straight she didn’t fit in. It was upsetting to me that we live in a world that even small children feel the need to change who they are, the color of their skin, or the nature of their hair to belong in this world. That’s just a bummer.
As a white person my mental image of what it means to be beautiful is well represented. Of course I do not meet the definition of beautiful set forth by media or publication. To me it’s not a big deal. When I see a model in print I do not think I have to look like her or even attain an approximation. The models are real people and real people DO look like that, but for most of us, we’re just average humans, and print and media sell fantasy. Hopefully it’s discernible to most people with a functional brain that looking like Charlize Theron isn’t necessary to attain happiness in life.
I am well represented. I cannot possibly fathom what people of color must deal with at a very early age with minimal to no representation. To not have the color of your skin, the fluffiness of your hair or the shape of your eyes represented in movies, tv, or print must really suck. The fact that nearly every heroine is white, or that to be a princess you have to be fair skinned. The fact that even when there IS representation in media it feels the need to call attention to itself by saying, LOOK EVERYONE! THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN PRINCESS! You know what would make that better? If it didn’t matter. If you could just tell the story like it’s a story. Of course there is an black princess, why wouldn’t there be? History is FULL of them. There are incredibly rich stories all throughout the world. Creation stories, folklore, tall tales, fairy tales- SO MANY stories from all cultures. Hans Christian Anderson isn’t the only source for fairy tales.
I went further down the rabbit hole of beauty and came back with some disturbing evidence. Loads of plastic surgery to fix monolids, shape noses, shave jaw lines, correct bone structure, ridiculous chemical creams to bleach skin, hair products that fry your scalp, makeup to correct for just about everything. I just saw so many brown women and girls trying to fit this weird idea of beauty- western anglo beauty. Some women try and change so they don’t look like they do manual labor, others to completely change their faces to suit a doll like appearance.
Wouldn’t it be cool if we could just live on a planet that glorified diversity? How rich we could all be in both our heritage and dress? So I started painting brown is beautiful. It’s partly an ode to the beauty of brown skin, and part to look at another culture through the lens of decoration and what THEY think is beautiful. As the series progresses I find myself more angry about the homogenization of humanity. We lose so much in integration of culture. Though I think it’s inevitable. The last bastion of these tribes and cultures will be their art, their music, and their representation through dance. Like Native Americans in the US, these tribes of our world will eventually own an iphone and watch reruns of The Bachelor on Monday nights. Their only ties to their rich cultural heritage will be in the form of “cultural days” at their community center.
As I try and represent cultures I was not born to, I will get things wrong. I will mess things up. I will incorrectly label or laughably screw up key features or have outdated information. I was not born into these cultures. I see them through western eyes with only the internet as my guide. The internet isn’t always right. What I do hope for though, is that good or bad, people look at these cultures from these tiny paintings and care enough to try and help with human rights violations, environmental destruction and sex trafficking of these humans.