- 90 per cent of British women feel body image anxiety (The Guardian) and 50 per cent compare their bodies to people on TV (YMCA)
Watching Yellow Fever, a short film weaving memory, interviews and animation about African women’s self-image by Ng’endo Mukii, I am reminded of the many reasons why A Different Mirror is a project and journey needed by women of colour collectively.
Mukii’s niece, merely a child, makes an incisive proclamation to be white with blond hair. Looking in the mirror, she says, makes her feel “uncomfortable”. Last summer, my six-year-old Nepali niece boldly shared the same desire. I become repeatedly sad and overwhelmed by our little girls sharing the same self-hate each time they declare themselves not enough. I too remember vividly growing up in a skin and body I still struggle to accept, love and belong in as my own.
I created The Body Narratives, a digital space for women of colour globally to document and curate what their bodies and embodied experiences mean to them, precisely for this reason. The overwhelming response affirmed that even for those of us doing critical and resistive work, this struggle remains urgent in a world that repeatedly tells us that because of race, gender, sexuality, culture and able-bodiedness, we are not worthy of being human, let alone loved.
A Different Mirror, a three-day exhibition taking place in Brixton from 25 to 27 April, is a response to this continued engagement.
Patterns of images used by the media, culture and society constantly tell us what we should look like and who we should be. They produce a literal and symbolic gaze outside of the self to render these bodies into objects to be looked at. The importance of the gaze then is that it allows dominant groups the power to control how women of colour interact with social spaces, other people, and most importantly with themselves. The “gaze”, however, is never total, and looking can offer an essential space of critical resistance.
In providing a platform for women of colour artists to explore the conflicts about how we see ourselves versus how we are seen, the project confronts crucial questions about the systems and structures that shape our relationship to our bodies and its connection to our identities.
We’ve planned a host of educational activities to encourage audiences to interrogate what defines them, including:
- A unique commissioned two-day poetry/art workshop by I Shape Beauty for seven women of colour to create an interactive installation on their experiences of shame
- Hosting local Lambeth school group visits
- An artist seminar to encourage women of colour to use art for empowerment and healing
- Holding an afternoon women’s circle to nurture discussion about the exhibition and our journeys to self-acceptance.
Through encouraging art as a tool for empowerment and healing, women of colour will be encouraged to share their stories on a wide range of issues such as complexionism and hair, violence, migration, activism, adornment and spirituality. It will also offer us a unique opportunity to gather ethnicity-specific data on BME women and body image, wellness and wellbeing that we can use to highlight relevant issues.
At the heart of this project, however, is a journey – one that shifts towards seeing ourselves as whole and full beings, our bodies as holding potential and possibility when we feel they are our own. It will subvert the gaze, holding up a mirror to know one another and ourselves differently.
A Different Mirror
25 – 27th April 2014 @ Brixton East
100 Barrington Road London SW9 7JF
Featuring works by: Indigo Williams, Lesley Asare, Sanaa Hamid, Nasreen Raja, Sarina Leah Mantle, Wasma Mansour, Uchenna Dance, Patricia Kaersenhout, and Ng’endo Mukii, Aowen Jin, Janine ‘j*9’ Francois, Clare Eluka, and Emerzy Corbin.
About the author
Hana Riaz is the founder, curator and editor for The Body Narratives. She is a queer politically black South Asian Muslim woman and feminist, a writer, blogger and believer in the transformatory power of love. Being human, she says, is what “this whole journey is about”. You can follow Hana on Twitter: @hanariaz