Under the Skin

Through his work,Philadelphia-based artist Antonio Puri wants to start a global discussion about skin colour

Written by AMRUTA LAKHE | Published:January 3, 2014 1:31 am

In one of artist Antonio Puri’s works,he scribbles the meaning of the word ‘varna’ as “to cover,to envelop” — like a layer of skin. He then describes the origin of the word (varna which means ‘colour’ in Sanskrit). Under these notes,the artist hits upon a question,“Are we as a society,or more so aptly as a human race,stacking people on the basis of their colour?”

These ideas form the basis of the artist’s exhibition of paintings and mixed-media art titled “Varna” at The Loft in Lower Parel starting January 7. For the project,Puri created a palette of the skin colours of a group of residents from the Dhal ni Pol area in Ahmedabad —

Mahatma Gandhi’s hometown. “The idea was to talk about skin colour as a global phenomenon,” says the Indian-born,Philadelphia-based artist.

Puri studied skin colours of the Ahmedabad residents and formed a colour palette that he applied on different canvases. He then stacked these canvases forming a towering structure like a DNA helix. “I travelled to different countries and realised that everywhere people were being judged by their skin colour. This made me push the idea of creating stacks which portray this inequity or hierarchy that man has created — with the fairer skin superior or at the top and the rest at the bottom,”

Puri says.

In one work,he has photographed 112 people,forming a collage of their hands. “This showed how even a small community can have so many variations in skin colour,” says Puri. His work also includes a commentary about the perceptions of skin colour across the world: why the rich and the poor have different skin colour,and how countries such as India,Thailand and Africa spend on skin lightening products while tanning is a status symbol in other countries.

“I feel a need to connect to the world through this project,and bring questions of discrimination to the forefront,” says Puri,who showed his work in Ahmedabad earlier this year. “Colour is a strong basis for separation between people from any community. And appreciating each colour for being unique is the first step to end this discrimination,” he says.

amruta.lakhe@expressindia.com

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