“Shades of brown” is a series of paintings that explore the impact of colorism and beauty standards on women.
When I moved to the US, the color of my skin became more apparent to me. I started to notice racism and colorism more but in all honesty, growing up as a darker skin female, even in Nigeria I was always aware of society’s preference for lighter skin. Society's preference for lighter skin is a result of Western beauty standards which have traveled across the globe and it promotes skin lightening in continents like Africa and Asia. According to the World Health Organization, 4 out of 10 women in Africa use skin-lightening products. Nigeria, which is where I’m from, tops the list in Africa with 77% of our women using skin-lightening products. For Asia, 61% of Indian women and 40% of Chinese women use these products. Lighter skin being associated with success and beauty makes women in these places use very dangerous skin-lightening products to fit into society’s preference. These beauty standards do not only focus on skin color but they attack size, body shape, and so many other features. All of this could lead to body dysmorphia, eating disorders, self-harm, and low self-esteem.
These 50 by 70 inch paintings show two different body types that are being manipulated by disembodied hands extending into the frame. These hands are a visual representation of society's beauty standards on the minds of many women. The clothing is overlaid with words. Words and phrases like, “love handles” “hip dips” and “saggy” draw attention to aspects of the female body that are completely natural. However, society has turned these words into negatives, making them a cause for insecurity in many women. The patterns used throughout the paintings, both in the background and on the skin reference military camouflage which is very intentional. Camouflage is said to have originated from the Parisian slang term camoufler meaning “to disguise'' The idea behind camouflage is to allow an object or person to blend into the environment. However,in my work it represents blending into society's standards which is ultimately impossible, explaining the contrast between the skin and the background. In addition, the inclusion of waist beads in my paintings is to signify womanhood and fertility as it does in most African cultures. And Lastly, the texture added to my work is to represent the imperfections of human skin.
Working on these pieces helped me fall in love with myself, it made me see the beauty and power in human bodies. It pushed me to create something truly authentic, but most importantly something that is relatable and empowering to other females, other women of color, and anyone who has experienced colorism and body image issues because of society. This is something they could look at and see beauty, not only in the art but in themselves, in their bodies, and in their skin because they know that they are not alone and they are looking at art that is a representation of their beauty and pain.