COLORISM (noun): discrimination towards individuals based on the shade of their skin, with favor given to the fair

Contemporary forms of racial discrimination are deeply rooted in the practice of chattel slavery and segregation in the United States.

Brown paper bags were once used as a point of comparison to determine which slaves would work as field slaves, and which would be house slaves, with favor given to the fair-skinned. This test became known as the paper bag test and was continued long after slavery was abolished. Today colorism is experienced between different races but is also common among members of the same race. These notions have defined a standard of beauty that is perpetuated today through popular culture, media, and education.

This campus-wide installation explores colorism through the experiences and portraits of Black women. The photographed women in this piece are volunteers from the New York City area who were interviewed on their personal experiences and views on colorism and Black female body politics. They were asked to explore and challenge their own notions, biases, and beliefs about colorism and their role in this narrative. The accounts were then transcribed and recorded by the artist in her own voice.


Eleanor Kipping currently resides in Orono, Maine where she is an MFA candidate at the University of Maine Intermedia program. Her interdisciplinary research-based practice explores the Black female as 'Other' in the United States while specifically concentrating on hair politics, colorism, and racial passing. She draws heavily on Black her/history, political narratives, and popular culture and works primarily with performance, installation and social practice.


This project is part of a month-long observance of Black History Month organized by the University of Maine Black Student Union. Click here to learn more and see schedule of events.

This project was made possible through the generous support of the University of Maine Cultural Affairs/Distinguished Lectures Series, the University of Maine Black Student Union, the University of Maine Office of Multicultural Student Life, and through the charitable donations of Orono, Maine and New York City communities

Project volunteers (photographed and interviewed): Andrianna Mackey, Azusa Okada, Bianca Lominy, Francine Chin, Janasia Body, Julianne Moore, Noa Hines, Samantha Douglas, Taylor Alexis, Sydney Thomas

Project Assistant: Azusa Okada • Technical support: Duane Shimmel, N.B.Aldrich • Special thanks: David Patrick, Geremy Chubbuck, Zachary Poff and Cooper Union, NYC