Where Yah From?
Where Yah From? was Paula do Prado's first major solo show. The body of work represents an expansion of her Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours paper and exhibition from the end of 2009. The solo exhibition included a series of 8 cloth figures, a range of textile works and photographic self portraits exploring immigration, identity and cultural expression. Below is an short excerpt from her artist statement for one of the key works Castas/Castes.
Within our family, it was ‘normal’ to have parents of mixed race. I grew up until the age of seven with cousins who looked the same as me. It was never something that was questioned. At home I wasn’t black and I wasn’t white, skin colour wasn’t an issue. At school in Uruguay, I was black. In winter I remember it was really cold and my mama would make me wear a balaclava. The kids would tease me and call me a monkey. I didn’t want to wear it so mama told the teacher to make sure I didn’t take it off. I don’t know why I remember this so vividly. I don’t feel particularly traumatised by it either. I just think it curious.
At school in Australia lots of my friends didn’t believe me that my mama was white and my dad was black. In year 8 geography class, the teacher told everyone that a white woman cant have a Negro baby. I was glad when they taught us genetics and about Mendel and his punnet squares in year 9. I don’t know why it felt so important for people to understand who I was and why I looked how I looked. In art class the teacher once apologised to me after class because we were drawing pictures from magazines and she had called Michael Jordan ‘black’ instead of African American. I just felt embarrassed by her apology.
Labels, names and even attitudes may have changed over time, but its as difficult as ever to talk about race. Castas/Castes includes some of the labels used by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 18th century as a result of the wide variety of colonial mixing in Latin America. Generally the lighter skinned you were the better for your social standing.
I think about what it must have been like being categorised by your skin colour for my grandparents and great grandparents. I think about my own experience and how it will again be different for the next generation. I am also interested in how these labels have survived over time. Some of them like negra, mulatta, parda and chola are still very much in use with a range of meanings. Negra or negrita is often used as a term of affection or as a nickname. This is something that occurs within my own family and with close friends. Mulatta is still a term associated with a highly sexualised woman of mixed race. Chola is also often used for women in domestic help roles. To this day, my aunt who lives in Uruguay and works as a cook, cleaning lady and all-round office support is called ‘Chola’ by her employer . In her last job where she worked 20 years, they even refer to her as Chola on Christmas cards and her official reference letter.
Paula do Prado 2010
Image credit: Andy Stevens