“Invisible Reality”: Student Art Project Focused on Colorism
By: Melissa Gonzalez
The beauty of black women is the center of conversation, thanks to one student’s photography project.
Along the walls of the Art Annex, photos of women of color line the walls.
The project, titled “Invisible Reality,” focuses on the issue of colorism, prejudice or discrimination against individuals with dark skin tones. Most of the photographs are of black women with a variety of skin tones. Some photos feature indigenous women and white women.
Colorism is a byproduct of racism and white supremacy and typically happens among communities of the same ethnic or racial group.
Talyne Nganansou, the student behind the project, presented her work on Thursday, April 4 and explained her own experiences with colorism growing up in the Republic of Congo.
Nganansou, 25, is a junior majoring in health services administration and wanted to share her project to bring awareness to the issue and to remind dark skinned black women that they are beautiful.
Due to the prioritization of European beauty standards in our country and around the world, many women with dark skin have experienced colorism.
In places like the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.S. and other countries, black women face discrimination in society and are considered less beautiful than lighter skinned women.
Nganansou began conceptualizing the project last semester and cooperated with fellow students and photographers Elkana Munganga and Emmanuel Aneke to bring her project to life.
She drew her inspiration from Alek Wek, a South Sudanese-British model, and support from her friend and fellow student Ritu Pandey.
“I used the color and the camera to represent all of the beauty, those same concepts that could have destroyed me,” Nganansou said. “But thank God to Alek Wek, and thank God to Ritu Pandey, and thank God for all of the people who believed in me that I got to this point.”
Nganansou approached different women for the project to have a total of 17 portraits.
Juan Aiga was one of those women.
Aiga, 20, is a freshman from Fargo studying computer science and business analytics, and she met Nganansou in Kise Commons. After getting to know each other, Nganansou offered to include her in the project.
Aiga joined the project after learning about the discrimination Nganansou faced in the Republic of Congo, and after reflecting on her own experiences with colorism and growing up in Fargo.
“I was pretty much the only dark skinned student,” Aiga said. “You try to figure out … ‘What is different about me that I can’t find someone who would love me outside my own family?’ And that’s when I started to realize the one thing that is different about me is that I’m black. That being black, you’re unattractive.”
Now, Aiga has confidence and sees the beauty of her skin color.
“My skin color is me,” she said. “I should be lucky to have this skin color.”
“Invisible Reality” will be on display until Thursday, April 11. MSUM’s women’s center and the office of diversity and inclusion are including a virtual aspect to the exhibit and inviting students to write about their own experiences with colorism by posting short videos to social media using the hashtags #InvisibleReality and #colorism.
“This is not me complaining,” Nganansou said. “This is me educating.”
Nganansou hopes to move the exhibit around campus for more students to see and ultimately would love for younger children to be exposed to the discussion and learn that their dark skin makes them beautiful.