Brazilian artist and photographer Angélica Dass has begun a wonderful new project called Humanae. Her eventual goal? To document every possible human skin tone using the PANTONE® Guide — a color matching tool well-known to graphic designers — as her reference.
PANTONE® is a classification system which assigns an alphanumeric code to an immense spectrum of hues and values. For decades it’s been the technical standard to accurately communicate about color in a number of industries, including architecture, design, fashion, and publishing. Dass began the ongoing series to initiate a dialogue on skin tone and the social construct of race; she told writer Carren Jao:
The inspiration for this project comes from my family roots. I am the granddaughter of a ‘black’ and a ‘native’ Brazilian, and daughter of a ‘black’ father adopted by a ‘white’ family. So, I am a mixture of diverse pigments.
Humanae is a chromatic inventory
Though we often self-identify with a single word to describe our skin tone — like ‘black’ and ‘white’ in the US, or moreno/morena in Brazil — in reality, every face reveals a personal rainbow.
There’s no practical way to address this complexity, so Dass uses her own shorthand: she samples an 11×11 pixel patch from each portrait and calibrates it. That representative color is then placed in the background (and labelled as in the actual PANTONE® Guide). To see the project’s richness, check out Humanae on Tumblr — which Dass updates regularly with new portraits.
The majority of early subjects were from Madrid, Spain, where the artist currently lives and works. However, she intends to travel more in order to deepen the diversity of the project. For example, earlier this month, Dass shot new photos in Paris. In her words:
Humanae is a chromatic inventory — a project that reflects on the colors beyond the borders of our codes.
It’s valuable to reflect upon what our ‘codes’ may be with regards to skin color. Besides the simple, unadorned frankness of each portrait, Dass invites a deeper discussion about human culture and the importance that racial identity plays within it. What is a mask that we wear? How is it demanded by society, and what aspect is self-imposed? Ultimately, what is our true identity?