Self Portraits of an African-Canadian Dressed as Her White Ancestors Explores Her Mixed Heritage


Brooklyn-based photographer Stacey Tyrell’s series Backra Bluid is a dramatic investigation of the artist’s own mixed heritage and the colonialized experiences of non-whites. As an African-Canadian, whose family most recently hails from the Caribbean, she is brutally aware of the English/Scottish/Irish blood in her veins—the ubiquitous reality lived by people who are labeled as “black” in the West.

Tyrell poses herself as women and girls of various ages, dressed in the outfits of her white ancestors. She displays ambiguous racial features achieved through an elegant combination of lighting, costuming, make-up and digital retouching. The images are inspired by formal Western painting, a nod to the imperialism to which the project refers.

Drawing from the self-portraiture tradition of Cindy Sherman and Niki S. Lee, she combs public records for historical data to add dimension to her characters, such as names carefully curated from Scottish baby registries and the US Social Security Administration. The series is tinged with discomfort, anger and shame, sentiments that are repeatedly mirrored in the cold stares and tense facial expressions of her characters.











This post was contributed by photographer Keren Moscovitch.

  • Adiaha

    The continued obsession some members of the African Diaspora have with whiteness is disturbing to say the absolute least. I am confused and annoyed by the need for any darker skinned person to imagine themselves as Caucasian. It puts out for the world to see the numerous ways in which white supremacy has taught us as a group to hate ourselves. Why can’t being Black be enough?

  • Interesting concept.

  • Randy

    As someone who is of mixed Canadian/Caribbean descent, I am baffled how the term “African-Canadian” is consistently misapplied, particularly by Americans.

    Isn’t an African-Canadian is someone who was born in Africa and became a naturalized Canadian citizen? She is of direct Caribbean descent so myself and others think the term should not applicable to her.

    If Black Americans identify as African-American that is their choice. Every person that I know who is dark skinned thinks the label “African-Canadian” is inappropriate – but not derogatory though.

    Black Canadian – or a Canadian who happens to be black – seems the most sufficient.

  • Scott

    I was born in Africa. I live in the US. I’m white. Am I not an African-American?

  • meme

    I fear you missed the entire point of this project…
    She isn’t only of black-carribean descent. She is also of white-european descent.
    Many, if not the vast majority of people identified as “black” in north America are, in fact, as much “white” as they are “black”. However, one “black” grand parent is enough to identify someone as “black” and wipe out his or her “whiteness”. This is a pure and simple heritage of the old racist myth saying one drop of “black blood” turned you into a black person, one of the reasons black people weren’t allowed to give their blood to white people in the US until a pretty recent date.

    This artist explores the fact that even if she is labelled as “black” and constructed her identity as so, she bears a whole white european heritage that was blocked out, partially by people… like yourself.

    So I think she’s right on. Amazing project.

  • Ashley Lynn

    Well said.

  • Joshua Cazoe

    Why is there a need to identify to anything in the first place?

  • Guest

    No. Because you were born in Africa, by your skin color which you say is white suggests that your people originated from Europe. So you are European American or European African. It’s really not that complicated. The US demographic surveys have defined you as WHITE meaning that your ancestors come from Europe or the Middle East. And they define African as black skinned people who originated from Africa hence the term African American. Again, it’s not too complicated.

  • guest

    So are white americans actually european-americans?

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