Using self portraiture, The Future's So Bright" represents my engagement with societal norms around beauty and power in Africa; norms that incubated in the shadow of colonialism, Western primacy and the aesthetic ideals that were perpetuated during that period. These ideals of beauty continue to plague African societies, and African women disproportionately, some six decades after weve regained our independence.
The work explores identity modification, advertisings inherent racial bias, and the toxic obsession with skin bleaching in Africa and the developing world. The images depict dark beauty, an uneasiness with the self, desperation and the disembodying effects of adherence to prescribed standards of beauty.
At the heart of the multibillion-dollar industry of whitening products, are a deluge of mixed messages that fuel whats become a widely normative practice. Though African women are being slowly educated on the dangers of skin bleaching as the sale of products is increasingly prohibited, bleaching products continue to be available in commodity spaces and women continue to be flooded with aggressive advertising that announces that whiter is more beautiful, more desirable, and being bright or fresh (term used to denote light skin) guarantees an advantage, a connection to power and social mobility.
What is Skin Bleaching?
Skin bleaching or whitening is the use of products that contain chemicals and compounds like hydroquinone, mercury, corticosteroids and sometimes detergents (not intended for application on human skin) to lighten skin tone and inhibit the production of melanin. The active ingredients are absorbed by the body and can lead to damage to the central nervous system, adrenals, the heart, the kidney and the liver. The effects of prolonged skin bleaching are linked to osteoporosis, psychiatric disorders, cancer and birth defects.
Chemical skin lightening or whitening is widely practiced and largely considered acceptable in Africa and amongst people in the African diaspora, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East, India, The Philippines, Singapore, China, Korea and Japan. In developing nations, including my home country, The Gambia, women across tribal affiliation, class and educational levels use these often unregulated skin creams to lighten their complexions. Over time, users exhibit many tell-tale signs of long-term bleaching: blotches of discolored skin on their bodies, pigmentation build up in their extremities and joints (knuckles, elbows, toes, ears, etc.). Bleaching often results in an unusual, somewhat corpse-colored complexion, thinning skin around the eyes and aggressive stretch marking. Some women develop permanent skin discoloration and burns on their faces and bodies from their excessive use of chemicals in the attempt to strip the pigmentation from their flesh.