Upper Manhattan Art Exhibit Takes On Racialized Beauty Ideals
A Dominican-American artist examines the delicate relationship between beauty and race relations in a new exhibition in Washington Heights, Manhattan. NY1's Shazia Khan filed the following report.
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Growing up with dark skin and curly hair in Washington Heights, Dominican-American artist Tony Peralta says he was considered to be ugly by his community and his own family.
"My mom would say things like, 'You know, I don't know where you came out with such bad hair.' She was like, 'Oh, it's from your fathers side.' She would say things like that and, you know, they say it kind of with humor, but as a young child, you know, it starts just kind of like picks at your self-esteem," says Peralta. "And then from, you know, the color issue, like me being the darkest one from my family and never being seen as like the handsome one."
In his deeply personal show, "Complejo," which means "complex" in Spanish, on view at the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance Gallery, Peralta pushes conversation about his culture's standard of beauty, which he says is light skin, straight hair and a narrow nose.
"Complejo" was inspired in part by the dramatic transformation of Sammy Sosa, the former Chicago Cubs slugger of Dominican decent, who now has straight hair and a significantly lighter complexion.
A silkscreen on wood piece illustrates a skin bleaching product by a made-up Sammy Sosa beauty company.
Click to enlarge.
"I don't have anything against Sammy Sosa, but it's just something that needs to be spoken about. It's just like the elephant in the room and people don't talk about race relations like that between each other," says Peralta.
Part of the exhibition features these mirrors with thought bubbles, forcing viewers to confront the issues head on.
One mirror's bubble reads, "Y ese pelo tan malo!," which loosely translates to mean, "What's with the bad hair?"
"These are kind of like private thoughts that you say to yourself when you look at yourself in the mirror or it's things that's been said to me or things that been said to people in general," says Peralta. "You can see how I feel or see how others like myself felt."
He says change in beauty standards starts with the person in the mirror.