Sharing the struggles and celebrating the triumphs of being African American in the ballet world and beyond.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Who defines your beauty?

Model unknown

 Scott D. Allen, the artist whose work is shown in the painting below, brought up an interesting discussion the other day. It began with the following statements.  "The only people who've purchased my works of African American women, have been African Americans. Do whites feel more comfortable with Asians and Asian Americans? Perhaps my Asian paintings are more popular because they're just more stylistically more suited for apartments?" I agreed that it may be a design thing. Asian Art has been En Vogue for some time now. It was not too long ago that people began to Feng Shui everything,  and bamboo plants and Japanese silk screens were found in many homes. He added, "I also think that people in general, just identify more with people who look like them. Most of us don't stretch much."

Scott Allen Art

It was this last statement that saddened me the most. Why don't we stretch much? Why don't we go outside the boundaries of our own preconceived notions, or stretch beyond old models of art and beauty? Have we all become brainwashed? Do you have a personal style, or are you afraid to show it because it's not what the magazines are featuring? I have often forced myself to take a step back and clear my head of societal pressures regarding aesthetics, a practice I first developed at Lines Ballet. I had been taught for years that there was only one way to dance, one perfect form. Eventually, I lost my individuality. It is this personal connectedness that shapes great art. I was wedded to form and technique. When given the opportunity to improvise, I froze! Alonzo King wanted to see Aesha reflected in my dancing, and I had lost her long ago. I didn't even know how to call her forward. I think Alonzo's work was so important for me. It was my artistic medicine. While still a work in progress, my two short years at Lines Ballet laid the foundation for continued inward growth and self-expression.

None of us can say for sure why Scott's African American paintings are not selling as well as his Asian prints. The larger point is that as artists, we need to challenge stagnant, conventional and often destructive notions of beauty and find our own unique expression. An open mind is the best canvas for self-expression and creativity. If we don't step away from time to time, to evaluate just who we really are as artists, we are depriving the world of our uniqueness and real beauty. By embracing individualism, choreographers will continue stepping outside the box, and artists like Scott D. Allen will continue displaying his own vision of beauty.


I recently stumbled across Tonya Plank's blog which featured The Black Swan Diaries. There was only one comment regarding the post, but one I found to be quite interesting and important to share:

One Response to Aesha Ash’s “Black Swan Diaries” From dance blogger Tonya Plank

Katrina says:
While, interesting and I intend to keep reading, I have a problem already with her second post (and she’s not the first one to say this either) but she writes “A view that put a premium on alabaster skin, long straight hair, fine features and stick thin physiques. I wanted to wear my hair natural and embrace my own, unique identity. ”

It’s not just African American women who feel this. It’s EVERY women in American who isn’t that. I have curly hair and I’ve grown to accept it (haven’t fully embraced it yet but I’m getting there) but there are days when I hated it and I tried to keep my hair as straight as possible. Whats the difference? I’m “technically” white (I hate this term though so lets not go there ;) ). While I get her point, I get annoyed that she assumes that white women don’t have cultural identities to struggle with.

I chose to respond to Katrina's comments with the following:

Aesha Ash says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
Dear Katrina,

I was alerted to this blog because of the appearance of my name. I am happy to have found it as I would have not seen your response. Let me first start by saying that I absolutely agree with you and I am sorry you were annoyed by my choice of wording. EVERY WOMAN in the world has to struggle with identity issues. If it’s not, “10 Days To A Thinner You” it’s “Look Younger With Theses 10 Steps.” My blog is about my experience and what I felt as a woman of color in the ballet world. I cannot speak for anyone else. I wanted a place to share my feelings and open a conversation. I think the one you have started is extremely interesting. I think you are not the only one who feels this way, but you had the courage to say it. I applaud that. 

I think instead of focusing on our differences we should focus on what brings us together. I think this is a completely different discussion on how the image of beauty in general is completely distorted, which bring women of any race to struggle with personal identity. I began my blog because of the constant emails I would receive from dancers of color seeking advice and sharing with me stories of struggle. I wanted them to know that they were not alone.

 I am reminded of Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty." The image of beauty is not only distorted in the classical world, but in our world as a whole. As artists, it is our responsibility to fill the world with beauty. Let's start by redefining what it means for ourselves.