Our face is not who we are. It is ephemeral, changeable, and shallow. And yet, in our society, it dictates how we are seen, heard and valued. Over this past summer in the United States and in the past week at Sewanee, I’ve witnessed the pain of Black citizens and students over the effects of blatant racism. More disturbing still is the indifference of the majority that enables the systems that hurts communities of color. It made me deeply sad that my Black friends felt unsafe, unvalued, and unheard. Originally all I wanted to do with this project was what I could to make people feel happy and loved, but I also wanted to pair that with conversations and learning. Since our society chooses to base so much of a human’s worth on their skin, yet favors “colorblindness” over acknowledging the reality of color, I thought I could accept the importance and beauty of skin, in full color and in all its glory by painting it, while pairing it with the voice of the human underneath it. I asked some of my Black classmates if they would be willing to be painted and share some of their thoughts regarding their experience of race at Sewanee. It is my hope in sharing this with a wider audience that it will become easier to harmonize the beautiful superficiality of skin with the deeply internal lived experience that it implies. These are our classmates, our friends, and our brothers and sisters, and they are beautiful and valued. I would encourage you to look as well as listen, and if you are a Black community member at Sewanee, I would love to paint your portrait and hear your thoughts.
– Phoebe-Agnès Mills