The Pass/Fail Series: Colorism in the African-American Community @ Golden Belt

The Durham Art Guild presents “The Pass/Fail Series: Colorism in the
African-American Community” featuring works by DAG member Steven
Cozart. This series of detailed portraits reflect Cozart’s thoughts and
feelings about race and identity in America, focusing on stereotypes of
the African-American male and female within the paradigm of the
African-American community. Cozart’s full artist statement is below.

This exhibition is on view at the DAG Gallery at Golden Belt Campus June 30 – July 26, 2020. For the health safety of our community while in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this exhibition is only viewable by appointment with advanced notice. For details on how to make an appointment and a listing of our protocols, see below.

Online Reception/Discussion with Steven Cozart
July 17, 2020 – 6:15-7:30pm
-Please RSVP via the following link:
IMPORTANT ZOOM DETAILS – This is a free event via Zoom. As of July 17 at 10am, registrants have been emailed the zoom login details for the event. If you are registering after 10am on July 17 or if you didn’t receive the previous email with zoom info, please contact to receive the information before 6pm the night of the event. Thanks!

Steven Cozart:

Golden Belt Campus
Mill No. 1 Building
800 Taylor St. Suite 9-157
Durham, NC 27701
Mon – Sat 10am-7pm
Sun 12-6pm

Featured image: “The Divide” by Steven Cozart

Steven Cozart’s Artist Statement
My work as of late is reflective of my thoughts and feelings about race and identity in America, focusing on stereotypes of the African American Male and Female within the paradigm of the African American Community. This series of drawings, paintings, and mixed media collages refer to the historical practice, in African American communities, of colorism (prejudice or discrimination against individuals regarding their skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group). In fact, these comparisons are based upon several physical traits, including hair texture, gender roles, and other traits, myths, and fallacies prevalent in the community. Acts of colorism would include, for example, comparing a brown paper bag to skin tone in determining manhood, beauty, and admission or exclusion in social circles. Using these concepts as a point of departure, a variety of imagery is generated.

I recall stories that my mother, who happens to be an extremely fair African American woman with freckles (there are not-too distant Native Americans and Caucasians in her bloodline) shared with me in which she had to defend herself from other African-Americans who targeted her simply because of her skin tone, comparing her skin to a paper bag as a means to exclude her because she was the lightest amongst her peers. This is of interest to me because of the irony of the situation. The history of the African American in this country is a dark, inhumane one that has its roots within the same type of ignorance. Why, then, would it be repeated within the same community that suffered it? Is this the oldest example of the Stockholm Syndrome, or the embodiment of the term ‘slavery hangover’? Up to this point, I have found and interesting paradigm: while it is obvious that some within the African American community pass judgment on others within the community based upon perceived notions about physical appearance, there is no clear answer, no right or wrong in this regard. Some are made to feel less than because they have a dark complexion or choose to wear their hair in a natural state, while others, such as my mother, have their very identity and loyalties questioned because they are considered “too light”.

As revealed in interviews with my subjects, the ideals of colorism are still prevalent in the community in its ideals today. Using brown paper bags, I record these accounts of skin tone, hair texture, manhood, womanhood, etc. as a complicated issue and experience: different for each African American. The results are a mixture of several mediums on a variety of supports, including wooden panels, traditional artist’s papers, and especially atop paper bags, as homage to the “Paper Bag” test that my mother endured as a youth and, as I have discovered through conversation, is still being used as a means of exclusion in some social circles.

The goal of the work is to begin a conversation within public spaces about why these ideals are so prevalent within the African American community, given the community’s history in the United States. The hope is that the conversations lead to a transcendence of the system of colorism among the African American community at large.

Durham Art Guid’s Gallery at Golden Belt Health Protocols

  • As part of our phased re-opening, this exhibit is viewable by appointment only and with advanced notice. To schedule an appointment please contact
  • DAG staff is limiting the number of scheduled guests to 2 at a time and 6 feet or more social distancing must be honored while in the gallery.
  • Scheduled guests and DAG staff must wear a face covering and must provide full name and phone number for our visitor log.
  • DAG staff is implementing regular and increased cleaning of shared surfaces in this space.

We appreciate your understanding. Thank you for doing your part to keep our space and our community safe!

-Durham Art Guild