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damali reflecting in mirrors

Paintmixers {format} {format} 5:57 damali ayo & Dmae Roberts

Shades of dark brown from swaths of skins.

Broadcast: Jun 4 2004 on PRI/WNYC Studio 360 Subjects: Art, African American

the paintmixers

by damali ayo

INTRO: Conceptual artist damali ayo for her show "flesh-tone series #1: skinned" visited a series of paint stores in her city and asked each color specialist to mix a paint matching a different part of her body.

She then used the paint in an art installation that included an entire room painted the color of her left arm, and a wall of 38 rectangular paintings using the 8 tones collected in the process. each rectangular painting is the solid color of one body part. looking at this wall of paintings the viewer sees the body of the artist: left and right arms, belly, back, face, thigh, breast, palm. dismembered, detached, requiring the viewer to compose the squares and colors into a complete body. each time she visited a paint store, ayo recorded the interaction, and kept a journal of her thoughts about each of the paint mixers.

Here are excerpts from that journal produced by Dmae Roberts with funding by Hearing Voices through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This audio art piece originally aired on Studio 360.

damali ayo's flesh-tone series can be found on the artist's web site damaliayo.com and her newest projects "rent-a-negro" and "living flag."

james; left outer forearm, by scanning machine; july 15, 2:46 pm; neutral base.

james was my first, and my favorite. i was nervous, but i had inadvertently worn a revealing shirt, and i think my nipples showing through provided a distraction. the paint mixers never suspected i was recording them. i asked james if he could match any color. he said yes, and i pointed to my arm. james stepped up to the challenge. he kept saying "i've never done a flesh-tone" which i liked because it was the first time i can remember my brown skin being referred to as a "flesh-tone." i felt i was bridging some important barrier-- redefining flesh. a white woman asked me "what are you painting?" as her brown-skinned daughter appeared from the aisles. i smiled at the girl whom she hugged tight to her as she said "isn't that fun?"

don and dale; left outside forearm, by sight; july 15, 4:15 pm; accent base.

don and dale worked as a team. don compared me to the fan deck of colors then passed me up the line of expertise to dale. remember when you matched that peach? dale basically just eyeballed me. didn't sweat it in the least. he hit it on the first try. pretty impressive. this was exciting, because it was a true interpretation of my skin, through someone else's eyes.

there is something about offering your skin as a color for paint. it isn't artificial. it isn't imported. it isn't coveting something outside of you- a photo in a magazine, a mango, or your neighbor's house. it's there, on you all the time, you own it. you don't have to covet it, because it's yours to do with what you please.

peggy; right palm, by scanning machine; august 15, 11:32 am; tint base.

my palm is less intimate than my arm, i suppose more detached. more readily a part of a person you might touch. peggy didn't seem drawn-in by the innate sexuality as the others. part of the appeal for me is a promiscuity of sorts. these brief encounters that allow me to share a part of myself, ask someone to experience me, and offer me a souvenir of our interaction. it's selfish, indulgent, vain and seductive. and i missed that with peggy. she didn't make any small talk when the paint was mixing. i missed the small talk.

brent; face (right cheek), by sight; august 24, 4:40 pm; ultra base.

brent was the most intimate of all my paint mixers. he spent 50 minutes with me. and he touched me. a lot.

i had been single for 2 years at this point in my life, and intimacy came infrequently and from strange sources. i was enamored of brent. "i've been at this since 1974 and i've never matched any body before." he came around the counter and got close to me. tilted my chin just slightly to catch better light, held the sample up to my face and always returned to add just a touch more of one tint or another. i have to admit, i was attracted to him. i found myself responding by saying "whatever you need me to do…" and "i trust you." i think my subconscious was storing brent away for some later sexual fantasy.

andrew; lower back, by sight; deep base; left breast, by sight; white base; august 24, 3:30 pm.

andrew was diligent, honest, with a bit of a cynical edge. when i asked him to match the color of my back he said "is your back a weird color?"

the paint store was empty, which offered me a privacy i hadn't had at other stores. after matching my back, andrew asked "what's the slightly more intimate that you want to match?" we proceeded to mix a color to match my left breast. he said he hoped he didn't get fired for this. he took me to the back of the store. i revealed enough of my breast to offer him room to compare colors. i didn't think he was phased by it all until he told me my paint was free of charge.

michael; right thigh, by sight; november 20, 2:21pm; deeptone base.

michael was the last:

on what is nude? he offered:

"like my arms are one color, but then my butt's a different color…ya know…more nude."

after an hour…michael came up with my least favorite color, more taupe than vibrant thigh brown, but hey, this is all about their interpretation, not mine.