"I identify as a Black woman," says photo artist Stacey Tyrell. "But, I also acknowledge that a part of my heritage is that of people from countries like England, Ireland, Scotland, etc." In her new photo series "Backra Bluid," Tyrell explores those intricacies of her ancestry, altering her own appearance to represent that part of her lineage.
Tyrell appears at different ages and eras, giving the viewer little explanation other than a name, such as "Winifred, 16 yrs.," or "Ertha, 44 yrs." She says, "By merely changing my skin color and making subtle tweaks to my face, I want to show how easily on a daily basis we all tend to go no further than skin color when we encounter other people."
The series is both beautiful and quietly unsettling — a response Tyrell seems well aware of. When she mentions the Caucasian part of her ancestry, she say, "I am often met with uncomfortable looks...They half expect me to launch into a diatribe about colonialism and slavery, when all I really seek is an inclusive conversation about the fact that all of us are more related than we think."
Tyrell's work forces the viewer to challenge their idea of blackness, but also whiteness. Stating an obvious but unspoken fact, she points out that "the majority of people in post-colonial societies are generally hybrids of its past and current inhabitants." It begs another uncomfortable question: Would a white-identified artist expose her non-white ancestry in this way? And, how would we react if she did?