11:28
TED2016

Angélica Dass: The beauty of human skin in every color

Filmed:

Angélica Dass's photography challenges how we think about skin color and ethnic identity. In this personal talk, hear about the inspiration behind her portrait project, Humanæ, and her pursuit to document humanity's true colors rather than the untrue white, red, black and yellow associated with race.

- Artist and photographer
By cataloging every conceivable human skin tone, Angélica Dass illustrates that skin color and race are more complex than they might appear at first glance. Full bio

It has been 128 years
00:12
since the last country
in the world abolished slavery
00:16
and 53 years
00:21
since Martin Luther King pronounced
his "I Have A Dream" speech.
00:23
But we still live in a world
00:29
where the color of our skin
not only gives a first impression,
00:32
but a lasting one that remains.
00:37
I was born in a family full of colors.
00:43
My father is the son of a maid
00:47
from whom he inherited
an intense dark chocolate tone.
00:50
He was adopted by those
who I know as my grandparents.
00:56
The matriarch, my grandma,
01:01
has a porcelain skin and cotton-like hair.
01:03
My grandpa was somewhere between
a vanilla and strawberry yogurt tone,
01:07
like my uncle and my cousin.
01:13
My mother is a cinnamon-skin
daughter of a native Brazilian,
01:16
with a pinch of hazel and honey,
01:23
and a man [who is]
a mix of coffee with milk,
01:26
but with a lot of coffee.
01:29
She has two sisters.
01:32
One in a toasted-peanut skin
01:34
and the other,
01:37
also adopted,
01:39
more on the beige side,
01:40
like a pancake.
01:42
(Laughter)
01:43
Growing up in this family,
01:45
color was never important for me.
01:48
Outside home, however,
things were different soon.
01:51
Color had many other meanings.
01:57
I remember my first
drawing lessons in school
02:02
as a bunch of contradictory feelings.
02:05
It was exciting and creative
02:08
but I never understood
the unique flesh-colored pencil.
02:11
I was made of flesh but I wasn't pink.
02:17
My skin was brown,
and people said I was black.
02:20
I was seven years old
with a mess of colors in my head.
02:24
Later,
02:29
when I took my cousin to school,
02:31
I was usually taken for the nanny.
02:34
By helping in the kitchen
at a friend's party,
02:37
people thought I was the maid.
02:41
I was even treated like a prostitute
02:43
just because I was walking alone
on the beach with European friends.
02:46
And many times,
02:51
visiting my grandma or friends
in upper class buildings,
02:53
I was invited not to use
the main elevator.
02:57
Because in the end,
03:02
with this color and this hair,
03:05
I cannot belong to some places.
03:07
In some way,
03:12
I get to used to it and accept part of it.
03:13
However, something inside of me
keeps revolving and struggling.
03:17
Years later I married a Spaniard.
03:23
But not any Spaniard.
03:27
I chose one with the skin color
of a lobster when sunburnt.
03:29
(Laughter)
03:33
Since then, a new question
started to chase me.
03:35
What will be the color of your children?
03:39
As you can understand,
this is my last concern.
03:43
But thinking about it,
03:46
with my previous background,
03:49
my story led me to make
my personal exercise as a photographer.
03:50
And that is how Humanae was born.
03:57
Humanae is a pursuit
to highlight our true colors,
04:00
rather than the untrue
04:05
white, red, black or yellow
associated with race.
04:07
It's a kind of game to question our codes.
04:12
It's a work in progress
from a personal story to a global history.
04:17
I portray the subjects
in a white background.
04:22
Then I choose an 11-pixel
square from the nose,
04:27
paint the background,
04:32
and look for the corresponding color
in the industrial palette, Pantone.
04:35
I started with my family and friends,
04:40
then more and more people
joined the adventure,
04:43
thanks to public calls
coming through the social media.
04:47
I thought that the main space
to show my work was the Internet
04:52
because I want an open concept
that invites everybody
04:57
to push the share button
in both the computer and their brain.
05:01
The snowball started to roll.
05:08
The project had a great welcome --
05:11
invitations, exhibitions,
05:15
physical formats,
05:19
galleries and museums ...
05:21
just happened.
05:23
And among them, my favorite:
05:25
when Humanae occupies public spaces
05:29
and appears in the street,
05:33
it fosters a popular debate
05:36
and creates a feeling of community.
05:39
I have portrayed more than 3,000 people
05:46
in 13 different countries,
05:50
19 different cities around the world.
05:53
Just to mention some of them --
05:56
from someone included in the Forbes list,
05:59
to refugees who crossed
the Mediterranean by boat.
06:01
In Paris, from the UNESCO
Headquarters to a shelter.
06:05
And students both in Switzerland
and favelas in Rio de Janeiro.
06:09
All kinds of beliefs,
06:15
gender identities
06:17
or physical impairments,
06:18
a newborn or terminally ill.
06:21
We all together build Humanae.
06:24
Those portraits make us rethink
how we see each other.
06:29
When modern science
is questioning the race concept,
06:34
what does it mean for us
to be black, white, yellow, red?
06:38
Is it the eye, the nose,
the mouth, the hair?
06:44
Or does it have to do with our origin,
06:49
nationality
06:53
or bank account?
06:54
This personal exercise
turned out to be a discovery.
06:58
Suddenly I realized that Humanae
was useful for many people.
07:03
It represents a sort of mirror
07:09
for those who cannot find
themselves reflected in any label.
07:12
It was amazing
07:17
that people started to share
their thoughts about the work with me.
07:18
I have hundreds of that,
07:23
I will share with you, too.
07:25
A mother of 11 years --
07:27
A mother of an 11-year-old girl wrote me,
07:30
"Very good for me as a tool
to work on her confidence,
07:35
as this past weekend
07:38
one of her girlfriends argued with her
that she does not belong
07:40
and should not be allowed
to live in Norway.
07:45
So your work has
a very special place in my heart
07:50
and it's very important for me."
07:53
A woman shared her portrait
on Facebook and wrote,
07:58
"All my life,
08:03
people from across the globe
had difficulties to place me in a group,
08:04
a stereotype,
08:10
a box.
08:11
Perhaps we should stop.
08:12
Instead of framing, ask the individual,
08:15
'How would you label yourself?'
08:18
Then I would say,
08:20
'Hi. I'm Massiel.
08:22
I'm a Dominican-Dutch,
08:24
I grew up in a mixed family
08:25
and I'm a bisexual woman.' "
08:27
Besides these unexpected
and touching reactions,
08:31
Humanae finds a new life
in a different variety of fields.
08:36
Just to show you some examples,
08:40
illustrators and art students
08:43
using it as a reference
for their sketches and their studies.
08:45
It's a collection of faces.
08:50
Researchers in the fields of anthropology,
08:52
physics and neuroscience
08:56
use Humanae with different
scientific approaches
08:59
related to human ethnicity,
09:03
optophysiology,
09:05
face recognition
09:07
or Alzheimer's.
09:09
One of the most important
impacts of the project
09:12
is that Humanae was chosen
to be the cover of Foreign Affairs,
09:15
one of the most relevant
political publications.
09:20
And talking about foreign affairs,
09:24
I found the perfect
ambassadors for my project ...
09:28
teachers.
09:32
They are the ones that use Humanae
as a tool for educational purposes.
09:33
Their passion encourages me
to go back to drawing classes,
09:40
but this time as a teacher myself.
09:46
My students,
09:50
both adults and kids,
09:51
paint their self-portraits,
09:53
trying to discover
their own unique color.
09:56
As a photographer,
10:08
I realize that I can be a channel
for others to communicate.
10:10
As an individual,
10:17
as Angélica,
10:18
every time I take a picture,
10:21
I feel that I am sitting
in front of a therapist.
10:24
All the frustration, fear and loneliness
10:29
that I once felt ...
10:34
becomes love.
10:36
The last country --
10:41
the last country in the world
who abolished slavery
10:44
is the country where I was born,
10:49
Brazil.
10:51
We still have to work hard
to abolish discrimination.
10:54
That remains a common practice worldwide,
11:00
and that will not disappear by itself.
11:04
Thank you.
11:08
(Applause)
11:09
Thank you.
11:23

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About the Speaker:

Angélica Dass - Artist and photographer
By cataloging every conceivable human skin tone, Angélica Dass illustrates that skin color and race are more complex than they might appear at first glance.

Why you should listen

As a member of a multi­racial family, Brazilian artist Angélica Dass is acutely aware of how small differences in skin tone can swell into large misconceptions and stereotypes about race.

In her ongoing project Humanæ, Dass pairs thousands of portraits of people from diverse parts of the world with their Pantone codes, revealing that our racially­ charged skin color labels --­­ red, white, brown --­­ as not only inaccurate but also absurd. Instead, she shows us that "these colors make us see each other as different, even though we are equal."

More profile about the speaker
Angélica Dass | Speaker | TED.com