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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.


black art print

 "I want to paint subjects that reflect who I am and how I see myself. "

Adekunle Adeleke 


"I chose to illustrate dark skinned women I noticed that they weren’t celebrated, nor present in a powerful manner (let alone presented). They were used as exotic extras on high fashion magazines, as objects that just contrast the ruby reds and emerald greens of haute couture. I was fascinated by the idea of the everyday dark skinned woman. Strong, care-free, beautiful—woman!"

Thulisizwe Mamba

light of the sun art print
belte art print

"I painted Béltè because I love to see black women and all their beauty, We already are works of art so I’m pretty much copying art."

Rahana Banana

"Growing up in the diaspora, I found that the issues of colourism effected me in a different way, I found I had to learn that there were certain things that just weren’t made for me. From things like sun cream which left me covered in grey, even to the foundation and make up brands my friends were wearing, they just didn’t cater to dark skin tones.


In many communities colourism something that is an internalised issue. Often, people with fairer skin tones are openly considered to be more attractive than those with darker skin."


Parys Gardener

























































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