Crystal Clements, American Beauty Made for Me, 2000. Ink, pencil and makeup on paper, 57 x 76 cm. Purchase 2001, Mount Saint Vincent University Collection

A beautiful drawing by African-Nova Scotian artist Crystal Clements can be found in the Living Room, nestled beside the bookcase and the large potted plant. Presented in an ornate gold gilded frame, American Beauty Made for Me is a thoughtful reflection on the idealization of whiteness in Western beauty culture and issues of miscegenation. Miscegenation refers to the punitive prohibition of marriage or sexual relations between white people and Black people, and later, other non-white racial groups. Beginning in the seventeenth-century, miscegenation laws – which were put into effect in slave-holding colonies such as Virginia and Maryland – had the goal of upholding the sanctity of whiteness while dehumanizing and disenfranchising Black people and other racialized groups. American Beauty Made for Me, is composed of twelve line drawings, each representing a generic young Black woman’s face, neck, and shoulders, which are repeated in a grid of three rows with four faces across. Each face wears the same neutral expression with the eyes closed and the face relaxed as if expectant of a cosmetician’s application of make-up. On each of the pencil-drawn faces, Crystal has applied a shade of women’s tinted foundation cream in a painterly fashion. The name of the foundation colour is written in long hand under each face and swatch. For example, the top row of colours reads from left to right: ivory, classic ivory, natural ivory, and creamy neutral. As the colours go from light pinkish and beige to light brown, the grid shows the limited range of diversity in the representation of idealized beauty and desirable femininity in the West. The bold smudges of colour against the creamy paper have been applied in a manner that emphasizes the foundation’s unnaturalness. This, along with the taxonomical style of the grid presentation of women’s skin concealer creams, points to beauty as a constructed concept. American Beauty Made for Me also makes a blatant point about the racism and colorism inherent in traditional standards of beauty and the strict gatekeeping around idealized femininity.

– JH