Questioning Racism at Senior Art Exhibition ‘Social Bodies’

Eliza Going '18

Staff Writer

This year’s senior art exhibition “Social Bodies” showcased six seniors’ bodies of work that aimed to follow their own respective themes of choice through photography, video and several other visual mediums as part of the senior exhibition workshop seminar for studio art majors. Under the direction of Professors Lynne Yamamoto and Lindsey Clark-Ryan, these students also developed reading lists, wrote accompanying statements, developed websites for their work and organized their shows.

These seniors will graduate “with a remarkably useful arsenal of marketable skills,” Yamamoto said. “They leave the program with an array of manual and digital skills, a good work ethic [and] strong visual and critical thinking abilities. They are also flexible learners and good collaborators. These skills serve students equally well in creative disciplines as in any other they might decide to pursue. So we consider this adaptability extremely practical, as do professionals in a broad range of fields.”

Two of the seniors, Maya Patel ’15 and Susie Carter ’15, collaborated on a satirical QVC set and commercial as a commentary on the racist implications of skin-lightening beauty products used regularly around the world, particularly in India. In their video projects, they focused on one feminine hygiene product called “Clean and Dry” that supposedly “whitens and brightens” one’s vagina. Highlighting the product’s intention to lighten the skin, the two women, in aprons and heels, “sell” it as a necessary component of any housewife’s toiletry bag or side of the shower shelf. Patel discussed her work and her experience at Smith.

What is your major?

I am a studio art major and a film studies minor.

What message was this specific project aiming to get across?

The Indian product that we were discussing is called “Clean and Dry,” and it is an “intimate body wash” that promises to “whiten and brighten” your vaginal area, which is highly problematic. Through this project, and many others that Susie and I have worked on together, our aim is to comment on the racially charged beauty industry and discuss its implications, specifically in the context of India. In this project, we created both a commercial for “Clean and Dry” and a fake QVC set for “Clean and Dry” to try and sell it to the public, through irony of course!

What work have you done in the past at Smith?

My work in art has stemmed mainly from an exploration of the cultural, social and political issues inflicted on South Asian women. Through photography and film, I aim to tell visual stories of thesewomen and the problems they face in society today, whether it be locally or globally.