Black Canadian artist dresses up like white ancestors to explore racial identity

A black artist from Canada has been taking photographs of herself dressed up as her white relatives to explore the intricacies of race and identity.

Stacey Tyrell from Toronto is of European and Caribbean descent

Canadian artist Stacey Tyrell transformed herself into a series of white characters based on her own Scottish, English, Irish and Caribbean heritage for her Backra Bluid photo series. (Stacey Tyrell)

A black artist from Canada has been taking photographs of herself wearing the clothing, hairstyles and makeup of her white ancestors to explore the intricacies of race and identity.

Stacey Tyrell, a Canadian artist who grew up in the Toronto area, identifies herself as a black Canadian, but her family lineage can be traced back to Scotland, England, Ireland and the Caribbean.  

In her latest project, titled "Backra Bluid," she transforms herself into a series of white characters — from a tennis player and a nurse to a school girl and a bride — to portray her own perception of "whiteness."

Although none of the characters are modelled on any particular family members, Tyrell said that they are all inspired by what she thinks her past and present white relatives would have dressed like throughout the years.

The artist said she wants to highlight that racial identity — such as the concepts of blackness and whiteness — is more than a rigid binary definition.

"It sounds kind of corny, but for all of the humans being, there isn't much difference between us," she told CBC News. "Everyone is interconnected. It's like everybody is mingled with each other."

The title of Tyrell's series draws from words of both Indian and Scottish origins.

The word "Backra" is Caribbean slang for white master or white person; "Bluid" is a Scottish word for kin, or the blood of men and animals.

Tyrell explains more about the title of this work on her website, where you can view the entire photo series.

Many people are 'hybrids'

Although the characters in the series range from 12 to 54 years old, Tyrell said she only "subtly tweaked" her features and lightened her skin for the transformation.

"The heritage is below the surface, it only takes a few things to really bring it out," she said.

Critics of Tyrell's work, however, have said that Tyrell isn't comfortable in her own skin and that she "just doesn't want to be black."

"That's simply not true," she said.

She explained that based on her physical look, she is often assigned a racial identity, obscuring the other components of her heritage.

"There is a dualism that is inherent in the Euro-centric constructs of 'Whiteness' and 'Blackness' in Western societies," she writes on her website. "It leaves little room for the reality that the majority of people in post-colonial societies are generally hybrids of its past and current inhabitants."

The artist, who now lives and works in Brooklyn, started the project in 2011 and plans to continue adding portraits to the series.

What do you think of Stacey Tyrell's Backra Bluid project? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.


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