Humanae photography project shines light on skin tone, race

By Joe Southern

Photo by Joe Southern
Angelica Dass poses with some of her portraits that are currently displayed in Houston at The Health Museum in the Humanae: Work in Progress exhibit. “The idea is to change how people judge one another. The words we use to describe each other — black, red, yellow, white — these are so untrue,” she said. “Let’s destroy this with an exhibit that shows that the true color of people is our humanity. Our oneness.”

All of her life, Angelica Dass was told she was black.

“I’m black but I’m brown,” she said, noting her real skin color.

The Brazilian native who now lives with her husband in Spain was in Houston earlier this month to open an exhibit at The Health Museum featuring 250 portraits she took depicting people of different skin tones. Her Humanae: Work in Progress, “explores human identity and race through a series of 250 portraits from around the world that label human subjects with their corresponding color in the industrial color palette, Pantone.”

“I have photographed over 4,000 people in 17 countries from England to the United States, to Brazil, Ethiopia … and none are black or white or yellow,” Dass said.

Each person she photographs is bare from the shoulders up. Each picture is given a solid color background in Pantone colors that matches the subject’s facial skin tone. Her subjects range in age from 8 months to 93 years and cross all gender, racial, cultural, ethnic, geopolitical and socioeconomic boundaries. Each person is a volunteer, which leads her to ask them a simple question.

“Why are you here?”

She wants to know why it is important for people to be a part of her project. She said she gets a wide variety of answers, but more than anything, she hopes her photographs will get people talking about why skin color is or is not important to them.

“I want to provoke the discussion,” she said.

Dass said she decided to start the Humanae project in 2012 after completing her master’s degree in photography. Being Brazilian and having married a “Spaniard with green eyes,” she has become interested in the diversity of color and how it affects people.

“Color is something that’s very important to others,” she said.

Dass hopes that her color palate will “break concepts of color” that lead to discrimination and show how similar we all are to each other.

“We need to look at each other for what we are – human beings,” she said.

What she has revealed in this ongoing project is a better understanding of what it means to be human. She said despite their cultural differences, people are the same all over the world. They come in different colors and speak different languages but have the same basic human needs.

Dr. Melanie Johnson, president and CEO of The Health Museum, said that although people are different in culture and color, they are all the same inside.

“Everybody is filled with love and aspires for peace,” she said.

She said the exhibit, which runs May 5 to Sept. 5, ties in with a program the museum is hosting on June 7 about race and health. Dass said she plans to return to Houston at a later date to photograph more volunteers for her project.

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