I wanted to share the story behind this painting and touch on a subject that has been present in the South Asian community for as long as I can remember. I briefly shared this story on social media, and I instantly received messages from South Asian women who related to the post and shared their experiences. I love how art opens up conversations, so this had to be put into a blog….
I had some long stops and starts with the painting shown in the above image, so it was nice to get back into this during COVID-19 quarantine and finish it. I started this self portrait last year, once we returned from our beach vacation in Florida. Chilling on the beach means my skin easily darkens. When we got back I was adamant on using that very skin tone in my work as it got me thinking back to my teenage years and how skin tone was defined in the South Asian community.
Fair skin was and still is considered beautiful in certain communities. Unfortunately, that mindset then rolls over into how someone with a darker skin is treated and perceived. The message of light skin as the ideal, has been portrayed in many aspects of life, from Bollywood movies starring fair skin actresses, to skin lightening products being big business in South Asia. Being a teenager in the 90’s and growing up in Surrey, make up for my skin tone, was close to none existent in the shops, anything close to what I could find was always a dreadful chalky color on me. Both cultures that I grew up with seemed to present the same message on skin tone. In my late teens, thankfully, I saw the fascination of ‘desirable’ skin tones as silly, the western world was going nuts over tanning products and South Asian on skin whitening! My skin tone was not considered dark by the South Asian community, I didn’t experience the prejudice some of my South Asian friends did. Skin tones in the South Asian culture is a discussion topic with a deep rooted history (I know this is also the case in other cultures). What the masses define as physically beautiful has an impact on young minds.
What I enjoy about creating my cultural series is that I can represent South Asian women as I remember them. My work is based on my very own experiences and how I know and remember women in my life. I love how collectors and the community are interested in the stories behind my work….it makes all the difference! So spending a little extra time on perfecting the skin tone in this painting seemed well worth the effort.
The green pattern dupatta in this painting was also worn by FOX / KNWA news host Jaclyn Washington-House during our TV interview in early March. Click here to watch interview.
To learn more about how skin tones in the South Asian culture are perceived, here are some articles –
Ad sparks debate over Pakistan’s ‘obsession’ with fair skin, BBC News (2014)
Bleached Girls, India and it’s love for light Skin, The Conversation (2017)
Dark is beautiful battle to end worlds obsession with lighter skin, The Guardian (2017)