Applying the Lessons I Learnt in Anthropology to my Art
I want to apply the lessons I learned in anthropology to my art, and give more attention to the underrepresented and marginalised.
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I’m a Danish artist. I express my love and appreciation for cultural diversity through my paintings. For too long, Western people have been overrepresented in art—their whiteness often considered the only acceptable form of beauty. If people from different cultures were painted, they would be shown as exotic, primitive and submissive. This has particularly been the case for women of colour.
Growing up, I went to school in an upper middle class neighborhood where all the kids had the same hobbies and clothes. The girls just cared about makeup, boys, and designer clothes. I used to say they were all clones. I didn’t have the same hobbies and clothes as my classmates, because it didn’t feel like me: I liked making art. I felt misunderstood, like my opinions didn’t matter and my classmates didn’t care about an outsider like me. Even though I identify as a woman, I didn’t feel very girl-like compared to the other girls in my class. Since then, I have understood that there is great value in being in a diverse community, and there are important lessons to learn from people who are different from you. Because of my skin colour and the welfare system in Denmark, I am in a privileged position compared to truly marginalised people. However, since my experience as a school outcast, I have always sympathised with the misunderstood.
I paint the beauty I see in cultural diversity, and I let the diversity of people in this world shine through my art.
Animated by this curiosity for what is considered “the Other,” I decided to major in Anthropology. One time in class, a student asked why anthropologists mostly study the marginalised and not the powerful. To my teacher, the answer was simple: he believed that modern anthropologists give power to the people they study because they make those people’s voices heard and their points of view understood. It made me want to do the same with my art, using the tools of anthropology to give the marginalised a voice.
Later, when I was in art school, we were told to paint what we think is beautiful and what the other side of our pain looks like. In other words, flipping our trauma to its positive equal. In my case, it manifested into an appreciation of diversity. Beauty to me is a diverse world, where everyone is valued, heard and appreciated. In paintings, thin, white people are overrepresented. I want to also portray people who don’t fit this description. I want to apply the lessons I learned in anthropology to my art, and give more attention to the underrepresented and marginalised.
Women—especially women of colour—have a long history of being portrayed naked, exotic and submissive to the white man. I challenge this trend by painting women in strong or graceful poses. My art balances the raw and the refined to create a more realistic world, where imperfection and natural looks are beautiful and important aspects of human life. I paint the beauty I see in cultural diversity, and I let the diversity of people in this world shine through my art.
In my collection, United Colours of Women, I have portrayed ten women from ten countries across 5 continents to show the varied manifestations of beauty in women. This collection is a symbolic exclamation mark on how beautiful, and important every woman is no matter her race or wealth.
Julie’s art features on her website www.juliecelina.com.
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