Colouring Skin: On Tizta Berhanu, Thembinkosi Goniwe, and Dada Khanyisa

Misha Krynauw, Art Throb, January 11, 2021

[...] The word ‘colour’ adapts to many interpretations; to pigment, to fill with, or even to justify. Its linguistic arch envelopes our intent as we assign it to navigate our underlying beliefs. When combined with the word ‘skin’ as a prefix, the term becomes a summation for a source of issues embedded deeply in the history that framed the creative experience for artists and audiences alike. These frameworks imposed limitations on the understanding of skin and of colour, furthering the agenda of a racist regime that trickled down into every facet of the human experience; forming an ever-evolving obstacle course for those who do not align with its definitions.


Tizta Berhanu’s show, ‘Hēber’includes pieces such as Together and Sharing Grief, works that use colour and skin to convey themes more aligned with Berhanu’s personal vision of community and emotional vulnerability. The result is a juxtaposition of hue and shadow-work, creating a sense of comfort between the collection of subjects in each piece. ‘Skin’ in Berhanu’s artwork doubles as a means for the audience to also gauge the mood of the piece; using the meaning of colour here as a language to convey the minds of the subjects, not necessarily just their bodies. Berhanu also drives home the affecting radius of human emotions through colour in the work here too, as the group of people embracing refract and reflect the chosen tones amongst one another – speaking to notions of empathy and sympathy that swell in these physical displays of emotion. Berhanu defines intimacy this way; in the emerging lines between the bodies and emotions, and rephrases the ideas and implications of trust and physicality by pulling all these aspects into a convincing argument for an ideal sense of community.[...]

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