N.O.W. 



Women of Color in the Workplace






About this Project


A recent photographic series that uncovers my mother's early work experience as a new migrant to NYC to recognize the contributions of immigrant women of color in the American workplace.

I plan to develop this project into a larger multimedia installation piece that will weave together stories about the technology work performed by these women and the social mobility it afforded them and their families.

THE BLACK DOLL

“With striking formal regularity and colourful geometric abstraction, her images are the result of the digital re-creation of pictures of vintage ethnic dolls from websites like Ebay. At the same time as expressing depersonalisation, they are similarly an attempt to challenge visual stereotypes, and to perhaps also re-appropriate colour from the symbolic taint of history.”
— Daniel Pateman (Photomonitor UK)




About This Project


African-American female slaves were the earliest makers of black dolls for their own children while the mass production of black dolls (for more seemingly sinister purposes) dates back to late 19th century toy production in Germany and France. By appropriating the listing photos of black vintage dolls for sale on e-commerce sites like Etsy and eBay, I have created a collection of new non-gestural, digital images rooted in the aesthetic tradition of geometric abstraction.


Across cultures, dolls have commonly been used to represent the human figure; to instill in girls a sense of care and maternity. Though for many children of color, the dolls chosen for us are also our first introduction to the divisive concept of “race”, specifically if the doll’s skin tone or features do not match our own.


As a child, the darkest doll I had was a Hawaiian Barbie that I coveted for her caramel skin, brown eyes and silky, jet-black hair that flowed past her waist. She was starkly different from your typical Barbie. As a mother, I question the roles dolls play in establishing conventional expressions of gender and racial identity. I am further interested in how the mass production of these dolls have perpetuated or upheld stereotypical opinions about femininity, motherhood and blackness.


The Black Doll series pairs each new abstracted image with the seller’s original item description, creating an interplay between social representation and personal memory. What happens when these doll images are (digitally) broken down into basic, formal elements of shape and color? What meaning, if any, can we derive from their descriptions/captions? Can abstraction be used to deconstruct racial and gender stereotypes?




Namesake






About This Project


The Namesake series is a selection of twenty-­five "photographs of photographs", made from the mugshots of predominantly Black and Latino women named Qiana. These women, including myself, were named after a synthetic polymer nylon manufactured in the 1960s by the global chemical company DuPont™. 

Founded in 1802, DuPont™ began as a manufacturer of gunpowder. During the American Civil War (1861-­1865) DuPont supplied half the gunpowder used by the Union Army. Due to political tensions with Japan in the 1930s, the United States could no longer procure silk, a strong natural fiber coveted for its domestic, industrial and commercial purposes. In the search for an alternative to silk, DuPont™ invented nylon in 1935.

First used in toothbrushes, nylon made its more fashionable debut at the 1939 World's Fair as women's stockings. Introduced in 1968, the Qiana® nylon was a cheaper alternative to silk yet just as luxurious and required no ironing. The fabric was used to manufacture clothing and accessories popular in the disco era, like "butterfly collar" shirts for men and the infamous Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress.

The name Qiana was created by "a computerized combination of random letters" and reached its height as a popular baby girl name in 1978. Qiana continues to be a common name given to African-American girls (sometimes spelled Kiana) and research has been done on this modern practice of unique naming conventions within North America's black communities.

In his 1986 essay, "The Body and the Archive", historian, critic and photographer Allan Sekula parallels the emergence of photography with the development of police acts and technologies of surveillance. 

Sekula’s essay led me to question the cooincidence of this online archive of presumed criminals who were my namesake, discovered one night through a Google Image search. Performing that search multiple times, I gathered over fifty mugshots of women named Qiana sprinkled amidst a sea of vapid selfies.

The images in the Namesake series were created by (re)photographing web-resolution mugshots sourced online. The results are abstracted and nebulous images with “bruisy” colors that metaphorically reference violence, like the black and blue marks that appear on a body after it’s experienced physical trauma.

These blurry photographs invalidate the original mugshots, depriving the criminal archive of its insidious, systematic intention. The Namesake series calls attention to symbiotic acts of violence that affect the identity of this peer group including racial profiling, mass incarceration, violation of privacy (online), corporate influence and consumerism.

Bloodlines






About This Project


What happens when an American women of Panamanian and Croatian heritage meets an Englishman of Nigerian and Irish parentage? Bloodlines visualizes the migratory patterns of my parents and my husband's parents the union of which created two mixed-heritage generations. 

Video run time 02:31.

©Qiana Mestrich 2020-