Stacey Tyrell, a Canadian artist whose parents are from the West Indian island of Nevis, knows that when most people look at her they see a black woman.
But Tyrell has a background that's invisible to many observers. She explained in an interview with the Huffington Post that some of her ancestors were enslaved African people who were forced to work on plantations and often coerced into sexual relationships. The result: she, like many other people in the Caribbean and in the United States, has Europeans in her family tree, too.
Still, because of what she calls "a dualism that is inherent in Euro-centric constructs of 'Whiteness' and 'Blackness' in western societies" — the idea that most people are one race or the other, not both — she often gets uncomfortable looks when she openly claims her English, Scottish, and Irish ancestors, she wrote on her website. She says it started when she was "a black child attending a predominantly white school," and it hasn't stopped.
"Over the years I have found that a lot of people (often white) get very uncomfortable at the mention of such a connection because they half expect me to launch into a diatribe about colonialism and slavery when all I really seek is an inclusive conversation about the fact that all of us are more related than we think," she told the Huffington Post.
The solution: in a photography project titled "Backra Bluid," (the name combines the Caribbean slang for "white master" or "white person" and the Scottish word for "blood" and "kin") she's dressing up like the white people in her family tree using full costumes, hairstyling, and makeup, to challenge the way people think of race and heritage.
"The images in the series are an attempt to interpret and explore these relatives from both past and present that I know are out there," Tyrell writes.
The artist believes the resistance she often encounters when she discusses her white heritage is "due to the fact that with the very act of mentioning such ties I am inadvertently reminding them of the brutal system of colonial African slavery and its legacy that has brought about such connections."
She says she's simply trying to get across that the majority of people in post-colonial societies are "hybrids of its past and current inhabitants. "
What's the point of using her own face and body to make this statement? Tyrell says, "By simply changing my skin color and making subtle tweaks to my features I wish to show that if someone were to take a closer look at my face they would see that it might not be that much different than their own."
(h/t Huffington Post)
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