Paris, France: RVB Books, 2015
96 pp., 28 x 6 cm., hardcover
Edition size unknown
Brazilian anthropologist Gilberto Freyre wrote in 1933 that race was uniquely insignificant in Brazil, that the country was the world's only true “racial democracy”. Generations of miscegenation, he argued, had made skin tone irrelevant.
The notion is considerably more contentious now, challenged by both activists and academics. Examples can be found here, here and here.
But for some, the central premise is still worth exploring. French artist Pierre David moved to Brazil in 2009, and was struck by the variety of skin colours, and Freyre's observations.
“Brazil has a better attitude to skin colour than other developed nations,” he told The Guardian, “There’s no doubt, because the concept of skin colour difference was recognised very early in their history. Now, it even appears on identity documents. In France, it is forbidden to define someone by his colour; in Brazil, that’s not the case. Everyone can claim his skin colour and be proud.”
Produced while in residence at the Museum of Modern Art in Salvador da Bahia, his colour chart book Nuancier documents the skin pigmentation of forty employees of the museum. David took photographic scans of 15cm of skin from the back of each member of the installation crew. The scans are presented as a fanned book of swatches, with topless portraits of each on the verso.
The artist also worked with the paint manufacturer Sikkens and to industrially produce each of the men’s skin tones. The forty paint cans were displayed alongside the colour chart, and the museum walls were painted with their colours.
Nuancier is available from the publisher, here, for 28 €.
Watch the book unfolded on Youtube, here, and hear the artist speak about the project (in French) here.