Angelica Dass is Brazillian, and when she talks about her family, she says it is "full of colors." She says that "her father’s skin is "deep chocolate." He was adopted by her grandmother, whose skin is "porcelain," and her grandfather, whose skin is "somewhere between vanilla and strawberry." Her mom is "cinnamon." Her sisters are more "toasted peanut."
This kind of classification is rather strange because, as the photographer says, although skin color never was an issue within her family, it seemed to become one without. In her childhood, this was a question that deeply troubled her, as she explained in a TED talk:
"I was made of flesh, but I wasn’t pink. My skin was brown, and people said I was black. I was 7 years old with a mess of colors in my head."
The artist continues explaining that things did not improve as she got older and that everyday racism was still very much a problem. She remembers going out with her family and being taken for a maid, or even a prostitute.
Hurt by this absurd discrimination, Dass decided to use her own experiences as a basis for an educational and self-positivity project. Humanae was born.
A world of color
Humanæ is a catalog of portraits that show the real diversity of human skin color. We talk or whites and blacks, but these colors don't actually exist, the scope of skin colors is much broader and more subtle than that. Everybody wears their own shade of skin and this is what the photographer wants to show:
"What does it mean for us to be white, black, red or yellow? Is it the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the hair – or does it have to do with our origin, nationality or bank account?"
Dass got her inspiration from the "Pantone Matching System", a normalizing system aimed at drawing the inventory of the color spectrum used by printers, graphic designers, painters and so on. The artist appropriated this system and used it to create her own conceptual frame of reference.
She takes portraits of her models on a white background and then changes it to match a color sample of their skin, on the tip of the nose.
3,000 portraits from 13 countries
Humanæ is a mammoth project: Angelica Dass has already photographed more than 3000 people in thirteen different countries, and she's not stopping there: she wants to capture all the nuances of skin color in the world. The project is vast and is successful in a variety of ways. For instance, Dass regularly gets messages thanking her:
"I realized that Humanae was useful for many people. It represents a sort of mirror for those who cannot find themselves reflected in a label.
Every time I take a picture, I feel like I’m sitting in front of a therapist. All the fear, all the frustration and loneliness that I once felt becomes love.”
Here are a few shots from this inspiring work in progress. For more, visit Angelica's website.