Vocabulary and References


Colorism: discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism or shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

Prejudice: a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

Consumerism: a social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.


Emmanuel, Kavitha. “Skin Lightening Is a Dangerous Obsession – and One Worth Billions.”The Wire, The Wire, 4 Sept. 2017, thewire.in/173759/skin-lightening-industry/.

Parameswaran, Radhika. “Shaming the Nation on Public Affairs Television.” Journalism Studies, vol. 16, no. 5, 2015, pp. 680–691., doi:10.1080/1461670x.2015.1054175.

Sims, Cynthia, and Malar Hirudayaraj. “The Impact of Colorism on the Career Aspirations and Career Opportunities of Women in India.” Advances in Developing Human Resources, vol. 18, no. 1, 2015, pp. 38–53., doi:10.1177/1523422315616339.

“The Difference Between Racism and Colorism.” Time, Time, time.com/4512430/colorism-in-america/.

Utley, T. Jerome, and William Darity. “India’s Color Complex: One Day’s Worth of Matrimonials.” The Review of Black Political Economy, vol. 43, no. 2, 2016, pp. 129–138., doi:10.1007/s12114-016-9233-x.

Vedantam, Shankar. “Shades of Prejudice.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Jan. 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/opinion/19vedantam.html.

“#UnfairAndLovely Campaign Dares to Break Dark-Skin Stigma Around the World.” Brown Girl Magazine, 10 Mar. 2016, http://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2016/03/unfairandlovely-campaign-dares-to-break-dark-skin-stigma-around-the-world/.


Experiments and Reflection


My first experiment revolved around collecting different kinds of advertisements for fairness creams from the early 90’s to present day. Watching these ads made me realize how subversive and manipulative they really were. The premise for most of these ads was that you can only succeed in life/relationships/career if you are light skinned.

These were the youtube comments under one of the ads I found. They are pretty self-explanatory.

I hate how the industry still manages to sell these products even though there have been significant steps taken to cause awareness. Most of these products contain harmful chemicals that don’t show an effect over short-term use but can cause serious damage over years of use. Most young men and women have grown up with the idea that fair is beautiful. This ideology has led to the growth of a multi-million dollar fairness industry.

Playing on the idea of subversive/subliminal messages, I decoded the real meaning behind these ads. I added appropriate subtitles to try and convey the “real” translation of these ads.

For example, in the gif I made below the actress says something like “listen to your sister and try this cream” but according to me, it can also be interpreted as societal pressures that force individuals to try skin bleaching products. These pressures stem from ideal beauty standards for women that are set according to what people (mostly men) find appealing in the film industry. Hence, “listen to the patriarchy and try it” is a loose translation of the idea behind the line.

My next experiment will involve exploring this idea further and add more elements to the video to make it seem more distorted. Though I like the subtlety of the subtitles as it plays into the idea of subliminal messages, I think it is important for people to understand the idea clearly the first time they watch the video.

My plan right now is to have a loop of 7-10 ads similar to the one above playing on an old tv. I want it to play on a vintage tv to convey a memory that is very personal to me as well as hundreds of Indian youth everywhere as they were growing up. I distinctly remember watching these ads when I was younger and even remember most of them (because they were played so often). I also think an older tv will add a certain grainy quality that will make my video more authentic looking.


I think my work is headed towards more installation pieces and I’m worried if I’m crossing the line between art and design, but then again does it matter? Maybe I just need to find a good balance between art and design… Right now the thing I’m most excited about is planning and setting up my exhibition space. So far I’ve learned that this topic is probably not going to end with my thesis. I see myself working on this throughout my future design career. My goal is to make the idea that “lighter skin is better” die with my generation.

Literature review

Lit review

So far I have read some scholarly articles that have helped me form a well-rounded idea about the topic of colorism. Along with this, I have also stumbled upon a few news articles that relate to my topic.

Academic articles:

India’s color complex- T.Jerome and William Darity

The impact of colorism on the career aspirations and career opportunities of women in India- Cynthia Sims and Malar Hirudayaraj

Barkha Dutt tackles colorism on We the People- Radhika Parameswaran

News articles:

#unfairandlovely campaign

The Difference Between Racism and Colorism

Shades of Prejudice

Skin Lightening Is a Dangerous Obsession – and One Worth Billions

5 Truths About Colorism That I’ve Learned

Research & precedent reviews

Primary and Secondary research

Since I started late with this topic I had to dive right into researching as much as I could. I watched a few documentaries(listed below) about colorism and read a few articles. I also generally explored social media campaigns surrounding my topic, such as the #unfairandlovely hashtag and when and why people use it.


India: A whiter shade of pale – 101 East

Is Pakistan ‘obsessed’ with fair skin? BBC News

New thesis topic!

{So I decided to change my topic from comfort food to colorism in Indian societies. I chose to do this because I feel like I have more to say about this topic than anything else. This topic is also controversial and uncomfortable to talk about, which makes it even more important to talk about}


prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

I want to open up a conversation about colorism and how it particularly affects south-east Asian youths. Being from South India, I have always grown up watching and learning about beauty treatments from the older women in my family. Most of these treatments were for ‘improving’ or lightening your skin tone. There have been many fancy names attached to bleaching your skin like– de-tanning, brightening, anti-oxidizing etc. These words merely mask the harsh reality of what the product truly does, which is stripping your skin of its natural color by reducing its melanin content. Melanin is the natural pigment that your skin has depending on the country you originate from. Countries closer to the equator have people with more melanin (darker skin) and people away from the equator have less melanin (lighter skin). Melanin protects your skin from UV rays from the sun, so it makes sense that people living in the countries with the most sun exposure have darker skin, right? So why is dark skin so discriminated upon?


The main problem here is discrimination towards darker skin within the Indian community by family, society or media. The underlying problem I want to explore is the way media (ads) make it seem like they are doing a good thing by showcasing equality and feminism but only if you are fairer. It seems hypocritical and doesn’t make much sense but they are still successful in using this tactic to sell skin bleaching creams to youth around the country.

This topic is relevant to me as I have lived through colorism all my life. I want to talk about this now because I have a platform to voice my opinions. This topic is also relevant to everyone as colorism exists in every country in one form or the other. By talking about my country first, it may inspire people to look into their own countries and help them in identifying existing problems better.


It makes sense to imagine a connection between British colonialism in India and colorism in South Asia today. However, all the explanations for colorism that I’ve come across make it very clear that colonialism did not introduce notions of colorism into South Asia; rather, it significantly strengthened pre-existing attitudes. So, where did these pre-colonial attitudes come from? Some writers say that this attitude has existed from the time the Aryans invaded India all the way back in 1,500 BCE. It can also originate from the idea that castes that are not connected to manual labor outdoors tend to have higher status and prestige according to social norms. Lighter skin color is viewed as a status symbol for the middle and upper castes, who did not have to do manual labor.


Thesis 1.3

Project 1

Objectives: What do you want to learn?

  • What categories does food need to fulfill for it to be considered a “comfort food”?
  • How comfort food changes depending on age/gender/ethnicity.
  • What is the link between comfort food and memories?

Outcomes: What are you anticipating to end up with?

  • A study of different kinds of people and their preferred type of comfort food.
  • A visual map of the memories associated with comfort food.
  • The possible imagery of scanned food using the enlarger (in collaboration with dark room).

Thesis 1.2

Word, sentence, and paragraph

  1. Comfort

Studying the effects of comfort food in our lives.

I want to study how design affects food and moreover the reaction of people towards food. I want to explore this idea in relation to the context we live in and maybe in the context of my culture. Why is food such an important part of every culture? I want to explore what comfort food means to different kinds of people and then somehow infuse that meaning within a brand.

2. Design

A satire on what is and is not considered graphic design.

Since graphic design is so vast it may get confusing for people to define it. It would be interesting to put up an exhibition of works that many people would not consider to be under the umbrella of design. Since I joined this program I’ve had to explain what I actually do (not just photoshop images or make wedding cards) to numerous people.

3. Origin

A comprehensive breakdown of why ancestry and family trees are important to people.

Why is looking for our identity/origin so important to us? These days companies even take your DNA samples and decode you into a bunch of percentages to tell you where exactly you come from. Does it help us understand ourselves better? Or is it a way of diversifying ourselves? I would explore my own family’s ancestors to learn more about myself and document my findings along the way. In the end, does it really matter where I come from?

Thesis 1.0

And so it begins! I’m equal parts excited and terrified of whats coming in the next few months. On one hand, I can’t wait to graduate and finally leave to start my career but on the other hand, I still need to figure out what I need to do for thesis. Last semester we presented a topic of curiosity. Hopefully, this curiosity grows into an interest, and later, a passion.

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Ideas so far

  1. Food for thought

This was the topic that I presented at the end of the last semester. It dealt with exploring the role of comfort food in our lives and ways in which I could illustrate it.

2. This is/is not graphic design

A lot of people still don’t understand what graphic design is (like my parents). This idea could develop to showcase a collection of satirical graphic design works.

Pop-Up book reflection

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I based my pop-up book on the 2004 Tsunami disaster that affected countries that shared a coastline with the Indian ocean. It was a tragic event where 230,000 people lost their lives. I wanted to capture this event through this project since I remember the day it took place as I was in the South of India when it happened. I found a poem by Sharon Esther Lampert titled “How many tears can the ocean hold?” which gives a more poetic meaning to the tragic event. She compares the overflowing waves of the ocean to overflowing tears of the Sumatran fishermen. I found the poem to be extremely moving and thought that it would fit in perfectly with my illustration style.

Some of the pop-ups have hidden elements such as the hands between the waves. The idea here is to try and save the drowning people but you can’t save them because their fate had already been sealed.
 One spread that I really enjoyed working on consisted of the art of kirigami, which is a variation of origami that includes cutting of the paper (from Japanese kiru “to cut,” kami “paper”), rather than solely folding the paper as is the case with origami. 

Production and Reflection

Figuring out how to execute the design for the invitation was probably the hardest obstacle of this project. I figured that I would need to divide my page into 3 panels for my design to work. I worked in illustrator at first since it was faster and easier to put together ideas over there and then moved over to setting up my file in Indesign since it is more print friendly.

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I thought that it was imperative to let people know about the 2 different exhibits– Riwaq and Mathaf. I visited both the exhibitions and even though they were from the same person I found that they told different stories. The exhibition in Al-Riwaq was more political and dark. I found it to be extremely intriguing how he had hidden messages throughout his work. The one in Mathaf, however, was more personal. He included a lot of his diaries and poetry inspired work. I felt like the work that was exhibited here was more colorful too.

The type of paper that I worked with was also important since I had a lot of folds and didn’t want my final piece to bulk up. I tested out a few different types of paper the one that worked best for me was thinner paper since it produced the most refined result. It was also easier to mail since it was thinner and could easily fit into an envelope.

I decided to play with this idea of separating the two exhibits. The bookbinding method of my choice further supported this idea. On one side the user would flip to the “Riwaq” spread which was more monotonous. The other side (the “Mathaf” spread) would contain a more colorful collection fo his work.

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