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September 18, 2017
'Born with a Darker Tan'
In this exhibition Jayamini attempts to discuss not only the issue of how having a dark skin is viewed within the South Asian sub-continent, but also more broadly how the notion of discrimination against women manifests in this part of the world when it comes to the colour of the skin.

Jayamini makes a particular reference to a poem by Jennifer Asiedu, which she came across during the making of this work.

My black is flawless
I've never been this proud before
My skin never felt so good
Was I not used to it?
I can't remember when I loved this shade so much
My colour is dark and lovely.
It sings with a rhythmic melody of beauty

And so it goes on.

The art work highlights one of the most regressive ideals that sadly continue to thrive in most parts of South Asia: that is the obsession with fairness. Colour of the complexion can be a barrier for women and girls in this part of the world to reach their full potential. Many people still take an instant, inexplicable dislike towards someone of a darker skin tone, without even getting to know the person first. Dark-skinned South Asians forcefully confront a malicious cultural complex, leading them to be viewed somehow as less desirable.

In a region where the majority of people are dark skinned, the overriding factor to determine whether a girl is beautiful or not, is decided by the fairness of their skin. One would have thought this unhealthy obsession with having fair skin was psyche created by long years of colonial hangover, but it seems it has long prevailed in countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A pale skin is associated with superiority ranging from the caste system, where the upper castes supposedly being fairer skinned than their lowlier fellows as well as rulers from the Aryans well before the European colonialists.

Regrettably, even the modern societies seems to consider fair skin as a critical factor leaving dark-skinned individuals been stigmatised. The popularity of this mindset has mounted enormously in recent decades thanks to marketing of skin-bleaching items that have gained a massive following. Research findings have concluded that fair skin positively correlates to jobs, education, income and marital status.

Women are particularly discriminated in this, so much so, being fair skinned scores points very quickly. As you know, arranged marriage is practiced widely and is a norm in South Asia. Quite commonly matrimonial adverts state the colour of the potential bride's skin. Unfortunately, fair skin is still seen as superior to all varieties of features people have, originating from South Asia.

Jayamini draws on her own experience of being treated differently, even being called names, in this body of work; hence it's very personal to her. In a personal statement she's mentioned that "Growing up I've carried many unpleasant memories and experiences that stem from having a dark skin. In my school days, I was known by some demeaning terms such as 'Kalu' (Blakie) or 'Kalu Kella' (Black girl) and in teen years and beyond as 'Kalu kumi' (roughly translates as Turkey); but have to say not always with malice in their tone. But one encounter I fondly remember is, when I was in rural China on a study tour, very hospitable elderly villagers who've never seen a black woman, come up to me and affectionately checked whether I have applied some black ink over my skin" There will be those who can connect with it, especially if you are from South Asia.

Again in Jennifer Asiedu's words,

My black is hopeful
I've had a freedom that was honestly free
I've lived in a time when my black was OK
My black lives today safely from oppression
Though still hated on
My black believes in a better tomorrow
Still lives in dreams of liberation and equality
My black has a great future.

It's worth noting ironically in Newcastle where these art works are exhibited, tanning studios mushroom in every street corner and tanning lotion or fake tan have become a must have necessity. Perhaps highlighting the human desire and greed for things they don't have.

"Born with a Darker Tan" was opened on Monday the 11th September and will continue till 27th October 2017 at the People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne.
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