Skin Deep

A trailblazing artist addresses the beauty of brown skin of every shade.

In Stephanie Brown’s interactive, mixed media installation exhibit Do Not Bleach, which opened June 8th and will run through October 20th at the Appleton Museum, the photographer and interdisciplinary artist examines and encourages melanin positivity by using soaps, pictures in frames, vinyl photos, textiles, T-shirts, paper dolls and mannequin torsos.

The collection is one of two thought-provoking exhibits that examine issues of race and diversity. Brown’s Do Not Bleach opened at the same time as Urban Chatter by Sharon Kerry-Harlan, a collection of works achieved with thread on sunbaked textiles that draws inspiration from historic and contemporary African-inspired figures and faces.  The two collections each examine the territory of identity and perception.

Brown is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she received a bachelor’s degree in photography. She went on to earn a master’s in fine arts at the University of Michigan. She attributes her success as both a student and a professional artist to the community that cultivated her love of arts and her pursuit of an art education while she was a high school student and the experiences she had at The Creative Arts School, located within The Old School Square in Delray Beach, Florida.

 “Photography is really what shaped my eye,” she explains. ”I feel like that’s how I see. I like to say that I’m a photographer in my bones, but I definitely feel that I’ve grown from just the photographer role to an interdisciplinary artist.”

Through Do Not Bleach, Brown provides people of color a public platform and affirming experience to embrace their skin. As an African-American artist, Brown is able to express her own experiences and present them in a global context.

“It’s a combination of feeling visible but invisible,” she offers. ”My brown skin is very visible. But what I have to say, my abilities and what someone perceives before they talk to me…I’m already perceived to be this one thing or they’re already giving me limits. So much of my work reflects the importance of black representation. How I look at the concept of black representation is so much bigger than just the United States. My work is bigger than me and bigger than the borders of the United States.”

“Historically, female artists, African-American artists, and other people of color have been highly underrepresented in art museums, which have overlooked an enormous amount of talent and expertise,” explains Appleton Museum Curator Patricia Tomlinson. “I was eager to share Ms. Brown’s message of melanin positivity and encouragement to embrace one’s body, skin tone, and ultimately, culture. This is a moving message that relates both to the past and to people today.”

To learn more about Brown, visit www.stephaniebphotos.com or follow her on her Instagram @createdbrown. For more information on all the Appleton’s current exhibits, visit www.appletonmuseum.org/exhibits/current. The Do Not Bleach exhibition was funded, in part, by the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design. 

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