In the course of writing this, it occurs to me that I mostly need to find and follow more artists. Like here which I found while looking up something else: http://fantasyofcolor.tumblr.com/ But now that I’ve written this I think the questions at the end are still worth something, at least to me…
So one thing that makes me irritable now (that did not used to, I confess) is that “all the pretty fairies are Caucasian”. You know the thing: cheerful, whimsical, winged… No, of course I don’t actually believe that. But that’s what’s I see, mostly. I have not been looking hard enough? No doubt…
I don’t mind this when it’s Cecily Mary Parker, original painter of the Flower Fairies. She was English, and lived in the 20th century, and painted for (mostly/ad first) an English audience. That was her time, her space. Plus she was drawing on English and other European mythology, and to a large extent, that’s white people telling stories of and for each other. But Monarch butterflies migrate to/from Central America, have for millennia. Why would a fairy with Monarch wings be white-skinned?
I grew up in the whitest state of the USA in the 20th-21st, and I’ve of course got the blessings and the baggage of having done so. Many of the painters I follow online seem to also have grown up in white cultures. And yeah, a lot of our inspiration comes from English & other Euro fairy tales. And oh yeah, Disney (which has been inching towards being more diverse in the last 15 years, slowly). So pale fairies are –no, were– to some extent, default.
So now… I guess I wanna say “fuck that”. I also grew up reading myths from all over the world, thanks initially to Andrew Lang and Leo and Diane Dillon, and later to going to look for them (Copper Woman and Corn Mother myths were the first I met, I think). And I don’t live in a monochrome world, certainly not now. And when I paint something that *isn’t human* and doesn’t have a basis in, say, Grimm’s collection of European folktales, I can’t see any reason why I should make it white–especially not when it is an avatar for an animal, or seagoing, or plant-based, or elemental…
(Of course, nearly if not _all_ of my illustrations of fae folks were white too. But just ’cause I _was_ limited in scope before now need not imply I have to stay so blind.)
Obviously, thankfully, I’m not alone in this. Just look around (I remember seeing some lovely tumblr links about such things, and Froud’s groundbreaking work from the 1970s included gloriously nonhuman colors). On the other hand, there’s a lot of light-skinned interpretations of mythology that just seem…well… not thinking things through. (Why were *all* the images of Mother Earth, on Earth day, retweeted by Sketch Dailies on Twitter, white? Did I miss some or what?)
So. I’ve been reading some fascinating essays (mostly in blog-post style) by speculative fiction writers of various colors, inheritances, nationalities, and more. This teaches me a lot about listening and the issues that “writing the other” raise and some of the (astonishingly obvious in retrospect if you’re not trying to defend your work too) stumbling blocks.
That said: which of these issues apply to visual arts? How can I included a wider variety of skin colors in my faery-folk and not be an idiot, nor accidentally offend (if I offend, I would prefer to do it on purpose, with forethought, though in general that is not my style). What must I watch for? What stereotypes are helpful in communicating and what are just plain stupid? And in which context? What are your thoughts on the matter? Where have you stumbled, and grown, and redirected your own work?
I know it is no one’s obligation to answer these but me, but I’m always curious what others think.