Angélica Dass Challenges How We Think About Skin Colour and Ethnic Identity

Angélica Dass Challenges How We Think About Skin Colour and Ethnic Identity

Words Beth Fuller
Images Angélica Dass

The Brazilian photographer is creating portraits by matching individuals skin colour to Pantone references.

Angélica Dass is painting a perception of race with a diverse colour palette rather than the undeveloped, out-dated and uneducated idea of black and white.

Brazilian photographer Angélica Dass is creating Pantone portraits by matching individuals skin colour to Pantone references to challenge how we think about skin colour and ethnic identity. Her project ‘Humanæ’ presents her pursuit to document humanity’s true colours rather than the untrue white, black and yellow associated with race.

“I never understood the unique flesh coloured pencil. I was made of flesh, but I wasn’t pink.”

For Dass herself, the need for the Humanæ project began in her art lessons in Brazil where she grew up. She found the label of race and colour in relation to her own skin tone a misrepresentation; society would depict her as ‘black’, but Angélica remembers that “I never understood the unique flesh coloured pencil. I was made of flesh, but I wasn’t pink. My skin was brown, but people said I was black. I was seven years old with a mess of colours in my head.”

Clarification of these oversimplified colours is then what lead her to photograph volunteers in front of a white screen, section 11 pixels from their nose and reference it to the Pantone codes. With over 3000 subjects thus far, the colour references are endlessly unique. Hence her project raises the question; how can a race of people spanning across gender and age be identified with one colour?

Thanks TMC! #healthmuseum #humanae #humanaeproject #angelicadass http://www.tmc.edu/news/2017/06/curated-5/

A post shared by Angelica Dass (@angelicadass) on

Moreover, it’s ironic that race is reduced down to one colour, yet that colour portrays a multitude of connotations such as a person’s profession, class and even interests. Due to being ‘black’, Angelica was stereotyped throughout her life even in the smallest of gestures: “by helping out in the kitchen at a friend’s party people thought I was the maid”.

Thus the importance of the ongoing project Humanæ is that it provides viewers with the specifics of skin tone. In recognising the spectrum of skin tone, a viewer can’t look at ten select images from the project and label a person as ‘black’ or ‘white’, they are individual and without a label, they are able to define themselves.

Despite Humanæ project being featured in many magazines and galleries worldwide, Dass finds its most effective purpose is in education. With her continuous display of the variety of skin tones, teachers, including Angelica herself, are using the project to educate children about true ethnic identity. Therefore, rather than having to use a “flesh-coloured pencil” Dass explains that “…my students, both adults and children, paint their self-portrait trying to discover their own and unique colour”.

Discover more on Angelica’s work here and watch the full Ted talk video below: