Saturday saw the resumption of an ongoing project from the past few years – the still untitled “white skin” project.
In Thailand, the importance placed on appearance and the singular standard of beauty which defines that appearance is a demanding one which pushes many Thais to go to extraordinary lengths in order to live up to their peers’ expectations. While this is exemplified in numerous ways (false eyelashes and color contacts are the norm for women, while plastic surgery is common among both sexes for those who can afford it), the most exigent of these beauty standards, for both men and women, is the value placed on having light skin. While Thailand is not alone in this (indeed, in most of Asia fair skin is a prized quality) it does seem more egregious here than elsewhere, due largely to regional and ethnic differences that make already politically and economically disenfranchised groups further pushed to the margins of culture by a fair(er) skinned Bangkok elite. Add to this mix the white-skinned, economically dominant Chinese-Thai minority and the social effects of the Thai obsession with light skin are only further exacerbated. In Thailand, the value placed on fair skin isn’t only burdening people with an unattainable standard of beauty, but this standard is also used to socially reinforce an economic and power gap that already exists on ethnic and urban-rural lines. That is to say, we see a standard of beauty that validates the worth of the rich, the powerful, the urban, and pushes out the rural, the poor, the ethnic minority.
This project is a series of portraits of young Thai people of all shades of white, tan and brown, with their skin painted artificially white – the cultural ideal pushed to such an extreme that it becomes a mockery of itself.
As previously mentioned, this is a recently resumed work in progress. While one usually might be more selective about how much of one’s process is revealed publicly, with my dual role as an artist and arts educator, I think it’s appropriate to break orthodoxy so that my students might get to see some of the considerations and decisions that go into putting together a project. Thus, below you will find some preliminary shots exploring different lighting, background, and make up techniques, along with different possible compositions. Feedback and title suggestions welcome.
(click images for high resolution lightbox view)