Pouring light on the dark side

By Alka Prasad

By Alka Prasad, Te Rito journalism cadet

Dark skin, eyes, and hair, all thanks to melanin. Abhi Chinniah’s Melanin Rising highlights the beauty in dark skin found in Aotearoa and all over the world.

“In many communities, colourism is still a taboo topic. People are not comfortable discussing why they feel the way they do about the colour of their skin and why they want to change it.”

Chinniah’s Jaffna Tamil roots and Malaysian upbringing meant colourism was always a big issue. However, life in Aotearoa did not bring much of an improvement.

“Inside my community I was told from a very young age that I was too dark to be successful or to aspire to anything and be beautiful… I have very early memories in Christchurch of having my skin colour pointed out to me as something different and dirty.”

Skin lightening

She says her work not only champions dark-skinned people but also highlights their personal struggles with skin lightening and media representation. She herself was encouraged to lighten her skin from a young age.

“When I was growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me in the mainstream.”

She says things might be changing but her community needs to discuss the health effects of skin whitening products.

Chinniah experienced the dark side of skin whitening herself in her early teenage years.

“I had patches come up on my skin. At that time, I was using three different types of skin whitening products: there was cream, soap, and a balm. I couldn’t figure out why I was having these patches but now looking back it was because of these products.”

‘Love your melanin’

Her exhibition explores the long-term effects of skin whitening, as people could become more prone to severe health issues.

“As a dark-skinned person, you’re still open to things like skin cancer.”

Chinniah says skin whitening is a challenge the whole community needs to tackle. She encourages people to share their experiences on her website, LoveYourMelanin.com.

“You can buy skin-lightening products in New Zealand, so there clearly is a demand for it but what I want to do is be part of the narrative of loving your melanin.”

“I think the more we talk about it, the more we can bring change. It’s important that we’re all part of the conversation.”

Melanin Rising runs until September 28 at Depot Artspace in Devonport, Auckland.