Beautiful Brown Girl
Clearly if black women want to be about the business of collective self-healing, we have to be about the business of inventing all manner of images and representations that show us the way we want to be and are.
- bell hooks (Sisters of the Yam)
Using paint swatches and colored paper I first developed the lips wanting to make them a bold feature and the primary focus of these images. Initially I hesitated because I too have mixed feelings about presenting images of black people with larger then life features that can be misconstrued as negative and or stereotypical caricatures. The lips became my focal point because I wanted to counter the negative images/representations by presenting them as one of the many beautiful features that Black people in America have.
The story behind these images...
A couple of years back I encountered an uncomfortable situation on the bus regarding my choice of lip shade, apparently it was too bright for a few onlookers. I shrugged it off and viewed it as just haters hating, but after it happened again, this time from two young sisters, I began to question where this unpleasant association with black women wearing bright lip shades originated.
I had not always worn bright lip colors, but having lived in Atlanta, GA for about two years I rediscovered and embraced the beauty techniques of my fellow southern sisters and began to really take chances with makeup techniques that made me stand out.
What I learned from the negative encounters involving my choice of lip color is that the history of black women's beauty in America had been skewed by past blackface entertainment and racist archetypes that were meant to demean and distort the beauty of black people. These distortions included white and black performers using burnt cork and shoe polish to blacken ones skin and exaggerate their lips using bright red or white paint to represent how dark and big lipped black men, women, and children were. These negative archetypes included the coon, pickaninny, mammy, Mandingo, and many more that generalized black people as primitive, ignorant, and ugly. The archetypes shaped American society, and this perception towards black people has had lingering affects, including my encounter of uncomfortable onlookers.
Taking action to change the perception that black people are beautiful no matter what helped me to create my collection of “Beautiful Brown Girl." I began to cut out the faces of black women in magazines in all skin shades and lip colors and used these images to develop my artistry. I wanted to present my view of black beauty, and loved the idea of using abstraction along with bright colors and bold shapes to create the images here. In my work I see us (black people) as sharp, colorful, and bold. Even with the current no makeup movement I stand in solidarity with black people who just want to be, whether they are natural or made up, the discussion regarding black beauty needs to move towards true freedom of self-expression and actualization.