Photographer Angélica Dass captures some of humanity’s truest colors through her portrait project Humanae, a catalogue of human skin color displayed as a simple, captivating collage of Pantone portraits that reflects the deepest shades of brown and black, to the lighter tones of white, pink and everything in between. For Dass, Humanae is more than an expansive exhibit, but a thought-provoking educational tool meant to prompt a dialogue on how we see each other and the boundaries we set around race, ethnicity and identity.
At the time of her TED Talk in early 2016, Dass had traveled to 13 countries and photographed more than 3,000 people. Since her talk almost a year ago, she continues to share her work with the world as it travels the globe and continues to spark those necessary conversations.
Where in the world has Humanae been? Scroll to find out some of the places it’s popped up.
February 2016: Daelim Museum, in Seoul, South Korea
Humanae was part of the Daelim Museum’s “Color Your Life,” which visually examined how the functions of color and space can re-illuminate the hidden aesthetics of everyday life. The exhibition was divided into five sections: Color is everywhere, Color meets material (glass, leather, fabric, metal), Color challenges design, Color completes furniture and Color paints space — with Dass’ photo project cast in Color is everywhere.
March 2016: Uribitarte Promenade, in Bilbao, Spain
For this public installation, Dass collaborated with the Bilbao City Council and made an open call for citizens volunteers and neighbors of the port city to be featured in her photo series. The selected images formed a mosaic of local faces — six large cubes lining a pedestrian zone of the Uribitarte Promenade between the Pio Baroja station and the Zubizuri Bridge — that were revealed on March 21, 2016, the International Day against Racial Discrimination.
May 2016: Upho Urban Photo Festival in Malaga, Spain
The showing of Humanae at the Urban Photography Festival lined the plazas, streets and squares of the Lagunillas district for two weeks. Dass worked in the area for a time before the exhibit was shown, to add individuals as young as eight months and old as 80 to her growing chromatic collection.
June 2016: Photobiennale Θεσσαλονίκη, in Thessaloniki, Greece
Every two years — for the past 20 years — the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography organizes an International Photography Festival, also known as the PhotoBiennale. The museum partners with Urban Layers, an European public photography project co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union that travels between art festivals throughout the continent, including UPHO Urban Photo Festival. Humanae was featured in Urban Layers’ 2016 theme, Identity Flows, a concept that sought to capture what identity means through a “photographic crossroad of cultures at a crucial moment in the European Union’s course,” following the UK’s historic exit from the EU.
July 2016: Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, in Milan, Italy
At the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology, Humanae was displayed in the genetics section. “Scientists want the same thing as I do, to show people that we are all the same race. There are things in our DNA which make us unique but in the end the things that construct us are the same. So these are two sides of the same idea,” Dass explained to 52-Insights. “I have my way, making photos and talking about my family, and the scientists are doing it in their own way, sometimes using my work to show visually what they are proving with science.
August 2016: Data for Life 2016, in Jakarta, Indonesia
Humanae made an appearance in “Visualizing the Invisible,” an art exhibition shown in conjunction with Data for Life 2016 — Indonesia’s largest international conference on the influential power of big data and technology. The theme of the exhibit focused on humanity’s relationship with numerical information, exploring the many roles art and other visual mediums can play in representing statistical data.
October 2016: Habitat III, UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, in Quito, Ecuador
A larger-than-life display of Humanae was featured at Habitat III, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. The cube, 12 x 12 meters (~39 x 39 feet), displayed enlarged versions of her photographs, with each of the 64 portraits averaging around 3 meters (~10 feet). According to the UN website, the conference convened “to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanization, to focus on the implementation of a ‘New Urban Agenda.’”
October 2016: Museon, in Den Haag, Holland
The Museon description for Humanae: “On this cube you see different portraits of people from many places around the world, including of course The Hague … But, the question is: Do you see who’s from here and who is not? That’s impossible based on physical appearance alone. Everybody has unique characteristics. We usually use the white, black, red or yellow colors to classify people, however, the images show that these color labels don’t exist and, in fact, seem pretty absurd.”
January 2017: World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland
Dass was chosen as one of the 36 other cultural leaders (alongside TED Prize winners Sarah Parcak and Jamie Oliver) at the Davos World Economic Forum Annual Meeting “to speak truth to power and inspire more responsive and responsible leadership.” The large-scale outdoor installation greeted conference attendees at Promenade Entrance heading toward the Congress Centre.
Step away from the internet, and other ways to fight tyranny: A conversation with Timothy Snyder and Rick Perlstein
Timothy Snyder grew up in America, but as a historian of 20th-century Europe at Yale, he’s spent much of his adult life in, or thinking deeply about, Central and Eastern Europe. And what he sees there — especially in looking at the Europe of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s — is a pattern that may feel familiar to people who are watching the political scene in the United States right now, with its political polarization, targeting of ethnic groups, and movement away from globalism toward nationalism inside government.
In conversation with Rick Perlstein, himself a historian of conservatism, Snyder talks about what Americans in 2017 might learn from looking hard at Europe’s darkest decades. “What we should do,” he says, ”is learn from the way things don’t work out.”
Why look at the past? Because, Snyder says, America’s founding fathers explicitly wanted us to. “Our founding fathers enjoined us to study something very specific for reasons of citizenship: they implored us to study tyranny.” He goes on: “They were worried because democracy has always failed. Classical Greece, classical Rome, both turned into oligarchy and empire. They were concerned the American experiment would also turn into oligarchy and empire. They were very skeptical of themselves and other citizens, and they set up a system of checks and balances, where tyranny would be harder.”
America’s democracy has survived for more than 200 years, in part thanks to checks and balances. But also because the US was lucky at a time when Europe wasn’t: the 1930s.
In the era just before the 1930s, Snyder points out: “It was a time of globalization. Everyone was saying, history is over, liberalism is spreading, we’ll have prosperity for all.” And then social movements came along that “wiped out liberal democracy in most of Europe — and could have in the US. We had a 1930s that was unusual,” he says, and “we should realize how lucky we got.” The US’ escape from fascism wasn’t thanks to American exceptionalism, he argues, but thanks to a president who was, among other things, openly anti-fascist.
Just after the November 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to power, Snyder wrote a post on Facebook that drew on what he’d learned from the Europe of the 1920s–’40s and from more recent movements and revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe. His post began:
“Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.“
He distilled his insights into 20 points, soon to become the book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Onstage, Perlstein asks Snyder to review a couple of the most memorable points, starting with the first one: “Do not obey in advance.” What does that mean?
“It comes from Germany in the 1930s,” Snyder says. “Much of the way Hitler managed a regime change is, people figured out in advance what the leader wanted, and then they edged in that direction.And that’s the lubricant in regime change. As humans, we do this, we say: I’m going to adapt to this new situation of authority. If you just don’t do that, you can slow things down. Just don’t shift automatically because the situation shifts.”
Another point: “Practice corporeal politics.” This is a term Snyder borrowed from a Ukrainian activist — and he means getting off Twitter and connecting to people in real life. He describes a trip he took to the US Midwest to talk to voters: “The folks I was talking to were coming up from their basements and away from their Facebook feeds to talk to a real person, and it was uncomfortable! There is something strange about coming up from the internet and voting from someone who is really going to be president.”
Corporeal politics is about “getting away from the internet and exposing your brain to different stimuli. That changes you too, and gives you a sense that things are possible. It doesn’t distress you the way the internet will.”
Americans who are distressed about the rise of fake news might also take a lesson from the recent experiences of people in Europe, Snyder says. “All the fake news stuff, even down to the particular memes about protestors — that they’re thugs, that they’re paid — all of these were used in Ukraine in 2013, 2014, 2015.” In response, he reports, young people there made their own counter-fake news and created their own fact-checking sites. “When you decide you love the truth enough, you can make a difference,” he said.
Overall, Snyder stressed that American democracy shouldn’t be taken for granted; it, along with its institutions, needs to be supported and protected by our words and actions, no matter how small. As he writes in his book, “Life is political, not because the world cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do.”
This conversation is part of our TED Dialogues series, bringing context and insight to our current political situation. The next TED Dialogues conversation happens Wednesday, March 1, at 1pm Eastern, on Facebook Live. Sign up for email notifications about this series.
Tomorrow, join us on Facebook Live for another episode of TED Dialogues, our response to current events, adding insight, context and nuance to the conversations we’re having right now. Join us Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 1–2pm on TED’s Facebook page.
Our speakers are two historians who will try to help us make sense of what’s going on in Washington: Rick Perlstein, journalist and expert on the history of conservatism in the US, will moderate a conversation with Yale history professor Timothy Snyder. Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century will be published next week. There will be an opportunity for questions from the Facebook Live audience!
How do we make sense of the tumult around us? How can we grapple with the confusion and alarm so many of us are feeling? In a special session of talks curated and hosted by Jon Ronson at TED HQ on Wednesday night, six speakers looked not at the ruin that follows hardship but the recovery. That’s why we called the session “Rebirth” — because it was a night to talk about redemption.
Whether it’s the crushing grief of losing a child, the manipulation of an electorate or the fear of public humiliation, each speaker has encountered trauma in one form or another. And as they shared their narratives, they offered useful mechanisms for coping and getting a new purchase on reality.
First up was Mona Chalabi, data editor for The Guardian US.
How to paint with numbers. In the current age of distrust and alternative facts, people have begun to question the reliability of data from even the most trusted institutions, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Once a source of common ground between individuals, government numbers now provide a starting point for contentious debate. There’s even a bill in Congress that argues against the collection of data related to racial inequality. Without this data, “how can we observe discrimination, let alone fix it?” asks Mona Chalabi. This isn’t just about discrimination: think about how much harder it would be to have a public debate about health care if we don’t have numbers on health and poverty. Or how hard it would be to legislate on immigration if we can’t agree on how many people are entering and leaving the country. In an illustrated talk full of her signature hand-drawn data visualizations, Chalabi offers advice on how to distinguish good numbers from bad ones. As she explains, if we give up on government numbers altogether, “we’ll be making public policy decisions in the dark, using nothing but private interests to guide us.”
A story of hope in the shadow of death. When writer/comedian Amy Green’s 12-month-old son was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, she began to tell her children bedtime stories in order to teach them about cancer. What resulted was a video game called “That Dragon, Cancer,” in which a brave knight named Joel fights an evil dragon. In the game, the autobiographical story of Joel’s terminal illness, players discover that although they desperately want to win and want Joel to beat cancer, they never can. What do you value when you can’t win? In a beautiful talk about coping with loss, Green brings joy and play into tragedy. “We made a game that’s hard to play,” Green says. “People have to prepare themselves to invest emotionally in a story that they know will break their hearts, but when our hearts break they heal a little differently. My broken heart has healed with a new and deeper compassion.”
Where East meets West. Emmy the Great grew up wrestling the East and West within herself — the East of her Chinese mother, the city of Hong Kong where she was born, and the West of her English father, her British peers, and the UK, where she grew up. But her 30th birthday blessed her with a unique coming-of-age moment, and she finally decided to claim her intersectional identity. She plays two lulling songs on a quiet electric guitar, “Swimming Pool” and “Soho,” with lyrics that swing gently between English and Cantonese.
Finding certainty in an uncertain world. At a time when the world feels like it’s been turned upside down and the only constant is chaos, it’s easy to slip out of reality and question your sanity. This phenomenon has a name: gaslighting. It’s a tool of manipulation familiar to author Ariel Leve. Leve grew up in a Manhattan penthouse, the daughter of a glamorous poet and artist, surrounded by interesting and artistic people. Her mother’s raucous weeknight dinner parties were a mainstay of her childhood, as was a tendency for her mother to tell her that what she thought had happened hadn’t actually happened. Facts were routinely batted away, and Leve was sprayed with words of contempt, which her mother would invariably deny. “One of the most insidious things about gaslighting is the denial of reality, being denied what you have seen with your own eyes,” Leve says. “It can make you crazy. But you are not crazy.” Leve shares a few strategies, including remaining defiant, letting go of a wish for things to be different and writing things down, that helped her survive and validate her reality.
End of the spiral of rage and blame. When she was was five years old, Megan Phelps-Roper joined her family on the picket line for the first time, her tiny fists clutching a sign she couldn’t yet read: “Gays Are Worthy of Death.” As a member of Westboro Baptist Church, Phelps-Roper grew up trekking across the country with her family, from baseball games to military funerals, with neon protest signs in hand to tell others exactly how “unclean” they were, and why they were headed for damnation. In 2009, her zeal brought her to Twitter where, amid the digital brawl, she found a surprising thing: civil, sometimes even friendly conversation. Soon these conversations bled into the real world, as people she sparred with online came to visit and talk with her at protests. Eventually, these conversations planted seeds of doubt, and in time she found that she could no longer justify Westboro’s actions — especially their cruel practice of protesting funerals and celebrating human tragedy. Phelps-Roper left Westboro in 2012, and after a period of turmoil she found herself letting go of the harsh judgments that instinctively ran through her mind. Now, she sees that same “us” vs. “them” impulse in our public discourse, where compromise of any kind has become anathema. “That isn’t who we want to be,” she says. “We can resist.” She offers four small, powerful steps to employ in difficult, disagreeable conversations: stop assuming ill motives in others, ask questions, stay calm in disagreement and make the case for your beliefs with generosity and compassion. “The end of the spiral of rage and blame begins with one person who refuses to give in to destructive, seductive impulses,” she says. “We just have to decide that it’s going to start
GlobalXplorer, the citizen science platform for archaeology, launched two weeks ago. It’s the culmination of Sarah Parcak’s TED Prize wish and, already, more than 32,000 curious minds from around the world have started their training, learning to spot signs of ancient sites threatened by looters. Working together, the GlobalXplorer community has just finished searching the 5 millionth tile in Peru, the first country the platform is mapping.
“I’m thrilled,” said Parcak. “I had no idea we’d complete this many tiles so soon.”
“Expedition Peru” has users searching more than 250,000 square kilometers of highlands and desert, captured in high-resolution satellite imagery provided by DigitalGlobe. This large search area has been divided into nearly 120 million tiles, each about the size of a few city blocks. Users look at tiles one at a time, and mark whether they see anything in the image that could be a looting pit. When 5–6 users flag a site as containing potential looting, Parcak’s team will step in to study it in more detail. “So far, the community has flagged numerous potential looting sites,” said Parcak. “We’ll be taking a look at each one and further investigating.”
When GlobalXplorer launched, The Guardian described its users as “armchair archaeologists.” As this growing community searches for signs of looting, it’s unlocking articles and videos from National Geographic’s archives that give greater context to the expedition. So far, four chapters are available — including one on the explorers whose work has shed light on the mysteries of Peru, and one on the Chavín culture known for its psychedelic religious rituals.
“Everyone will find things on GlobalXplorer,” said Parcak. “All users are making a real difference. I’ve had photos from my friends showing their kids working together to find sites, and emails from retirees who always wanted to be archaeologists but never could. It’s really heartwarming to see this work.”
Expedition Peru draws to a close on March 15, 2017. Start searching »