Mixed media artist and fine art photographer Sheila Pree-Bright recently visited Grambling State University, where she shared her work in the “Girls, Grillz and Dolls” exhibition.Her work, which was displayed in Dunbar Gallery, focused on the perception of identity and the standards of beauty.
Pree-Bright, who is based in Atlanta, grew up in Germany. It was there that she would get her first exposure to different cultures and really be driven to seek and gain an understanding of different cultures and stereotypes.
She candidly told the story of being the only little Black girl and remembering how all the kids around her were fascinated by the color of her skin, the texture of her hair and just wanted to touch her. She was in shock because up to this point she had not been introduced to the idea of race and diversity.
She said it was that moment that motivated and inspired her to explore not only African-American culture, but other cultures as well.
In studying African-American culture, when she moved to the South in the 90s, she found the phenomena of gold teeth fascinating.
Photographs in the Grillz series depicted close-ups of several men’s faces with a mouthful of gold-encrusted teeth. Grillz, as they are most commonly known, are a form of bodily decoration and a form of expression much like the adornment of hair and jewelry of our ancestors.
Also, the men were photographed with their eyes closed, smiling and printed in blue and white.
This was done to soften the image of the men because often times the images we see of African-American men are rough and intimidating. And it is assumed that they are thugs and criminals, which is not always the case.
We often don’t see African-American men smiling either as it is looked down upon because no one wants to be seen as soft or weak.
So initially, when I saw the photos from the Grillz series, I did not know what to think or how to feel. I was stuck on trying to figure out what she was trying to convey because I just did not get it.
But the moment I spoke with Pree-Bright, I immediately understood and saw her vision.
Pree-Bright’s series Dolls began in 2003 as a way to describe America’s obsession with obtaining the ideal body. The series took a look at the standards of perfection and examined how women of color do not fit that ideal mold and often times lose their personal identity as a result.
She used the Barbie because it is seen as the ideal standard of beauty no matter where you are from or what ethnicity you are.
The portraits use digital manipulation to create part human, part Barbie portraits. She morphed the images to blur the line of reality and non-reality.
Pree-Bright poignantly stated, “The Barbie became human and the humans plastic.”
I agree whole-heartedly that this is true because we spend so much time worried about our exterior and trying to fit the mold that we become fake with all the plastic surgery, weaves and fake nails amongst other things.
If we could just focus on being happy with ourselves and not worry about how others perceive us, things could be a lot better for us.
Overall, I was definitely intrigued by the photos and enjoyed seeing the different shots of the dolls and women. Her photos in the series were very delicate and subtle.
During her visit, Pree-Bright not only shared her artwork, but also held a lecture on cultural stereotypes and beauty standards.
She went from class to class speaking with art students. She gave words of encouragement, constructive criticism and sound words of advice. She came to give students insight and challenge them to think.