Humanae is a “work in progress” by the Brazilian Angélica Dass, who intends to deploy a chromatic range of the different human skin colours. Those who pose are volunteers who have known the project and decide to participate. There is no previous selection of participants and there are no classifications relating to nationality, gender, age, race, social class or religion. The only limit would be reached by completing all of the world’s population. The best-known is that of the portraits of identity, initiated by Alphonse Bertillon and now used universally. However, this taxonomy close to Borges´ world, adopts the format of the Pantone guides, which gives the collection a degree of hierarchical horizontality that dilutes the false pre-eminence of some races over others based on skin colour or social condition. Dass challenges how we think about skin colour and ethnic identity. She is one of the speakers at the TEDxGateway in NCPA, Mumbai tomorrow. Excerpts from an interview:
Q What is the reason for using the name “Humanae” for your project?
It is the Latin word for Human.
Q Did it take a lot of convincing to get people to participate in Humanae?
The truth is that I don’t convince, choose or find my volunteers. When I do an exhibition or a photo shoot, the museum, cultural center, institution or whatever platform which I collaborated with, usually informed about my project and people come to be photographed. At the same time, I use social networks but honesty, I think that people want to talk about their own experiences and that makes it so powerful. The most important thing when I do a portrait is generating empathy with the person who is photographed. I spend around 15 minutes talking with each person and we usually share ideas and talk about our interests with Humanae. Most of the time we start a short debate about identity and how people can understand this concept. This conversation is really important to connect with people.
Q When and how did you conceptualise the idea?
I started this project as a final work for a master, in April 2012. The first images were taken in Brazil, with some members of my family. During July the same year I started making public announcements through social networks, sharing I was going to be portraying and that everyone who liked to participate or share the message would be welcomed. The inspiration for this project comes from my family roots. I am the granddaughter of “black” and “native” Brazilians and the daughter of a “black” father adopted by a “white” family. So, I am a mixture of diverse “pigments”. Humanae is a pursuit for highlighting our true colour rather than the untrue and cliché red and yellow, black and white. For me it is a kind of game for subverting our codes. As a photographer I try to talk about the social or personal codes, our identity and all their elements. What we have learned in social, linguistic or cultural contexts, tend to distract us from everyday nuances that I would like to re-think.
Q Is project a story of an individual battle or was it always intended to the reach this magnitude?
I never imagined the emotional range that could generate through Humanae. A lot of people wrote to me every day, talking about their experiences and how the project just helped them recover their own trust. Many people around the world are willing to work to establish more tolerant societies. That’s one of the most beautiful things that I realise and to rethink is the most powerful calm protest that we can do and we look for this approach. On the other hand, the impact that has in schools is really incredible. Than implication and interest of professors is really touching. You can visit www.angelicadass.com/testimonies/ for more details.
Q How many volunteers have you documented so far?
Right now almost 4,000 people are a part of Humanae.
Q How did people react to your idea?
I think people had a very good reaction. Maybe, one of the most important reasons for this amazing feedback is because I found an effective visual way to communicate one global thought and feelings of a lot of people. I decided to keep going with this project because I realise that many people with different stories wanted to be part of the idea.
Q Did your past experience as a magazine photographer help?
I think, in a way it was really positive. When I worked in different magazines I had to keep in touch with different people on the streets, people that I didn’t know at all and this experience was really helpful when I started Humanae and got to know about other people’s experiences.
Q Have you ever come across criticism for your work? How do you generally deal with it?
Fortunately, Humanae receives more empathetic reviews than negative one. However, some people ask me about the relation that I have with Pantone, as a brand. And sometimes my work is perceived as an advertisement of Pantone.
Q Is there any particular reason why you choose photography to expresses your ideas?
I chose this format because it allowed an equal processing to all people that are part of this project.
Q How has Humanae progressed since its inception?
At present, almost 4,000 images exist in the project. They are been taken in 25 cities of 16 different countries.