Ayok'a artists on why they chose to portray dark-skinned subjects
Light-skinned. High yellow. Redbone. Browning. Lightie. Dark-skinned. Blue-black. Blick. Wherever you are as you read this, internationally, regionally and historically, there are names for different shades of black skin. And the darker the skin, the more programmed we are to attach negative connotations to each hurtful name. Dark-skinned women in particular are cast as the undesirable butt of many jokes – celebrities weigh in with their commentary, Twitter-debates ensue, and no matter who ‘wins’ on the timeline, feelings are hurt, paradigms are reinforced, and a heavier cloak of imposed shame is wrapped around the concept of being dark.
Fingers are often pointed at high street black hair stores selling back-street bleaching creams – but when across the pond in Asia household-name cosmetics vendors are complicit in the skin lightening manifesto, with names such as Palmolive, Oil of Olay and Dove supplying ‘brightening’ product lines, we have to dig a little deeper than the symptomatic demand for these products. Why does the world want so much to be lighter?
This thinking began somewhere. Eurocentric beauty standards and anti-blackness have been internalised by the masses, and it’s affected us all – the recent reference to society as ‘recovering colourists’, whether on the victim or villain side of the argument, highlights our need to purge the lies we’ve been told about ourselves – and a need for dark-skinned black women to know their beauty is not something to be proven, to be argued for or debated, but something to be appreciated without question.
As part of this healing process, we’ve pulled together a selection of Ayok’a artists who’ve created art work that shines a spotlight on dark-skinned women, celebrating everything they are in a bold, unapologetic and loving ode to black beauty.