Senior Thesis Exhibition : A Review / by Hannah Harley

The thirteen BFA candidates from Point Park University presented XIII, an exhibition of senior thesis work, this past weekend. The exhibition was the culmination of nine months of rigorous work, showcasing the visual representation of hours of research and dedicated artistic practices. 

My work, Untitled (Pornography), focused on the consistent fetishizing of race through pornography. Mass media has habitually demonstrated a preference for white women, and this pattern has integrated itself into contemporary dating habits. My research focused on this phenomenon with particular concentration on online dating.  

The majority of pornographic viewers tend not to discuss their pornographic preferences with partners, friends, or family members due to the stigmatized nature of pornography. This body of work is an attempt to facilitate a dialogue about the kind of media individuals are consuming and how that media shapes their individual preferences.

On, an online dating service, race can be a filter used to eliminate potentially unwanted races from a user’s individualized dating pool. According to research published by OkCupid, this process has been unfavorable to women of color, specifically black women. Shockingly, nearly 82% of “non-black male users” displayed a bias against black women.  

Without open discussions on race and sexual preference, how can we begin to understand our own subtle preferences? 

The below video does a great job of explaining the sexual stereotypes and how that can become integral to our understand of another's 'sexiness' through their race. (Great job by MTV to work on decoding these stereotypes!) 

As we move forward, I hope that this work can bring a thoughtful dialogue to its viewers about their own biases, media consumption, and pornographic preferences. Extensive psychological research exists for each of these areas, but until we start recognizing our individual preferences, we will be at a loss for a bettered understanding of our own complexities. 

A huge thank you to the Globe, which featured me in an article about the exhibition: 

“My work is about pornography,” Harley said. “It’s analyzing the skin tones in pornography, specifically that race in pornography is fetishized and not considered normal.”

Harley has conducted thorough research on this topic. After a breakup in August, she decided to try the dating app called Tinder. She quickly realized that men often viewed her as just a sexual object and began researching their thought process. She began collaging men’s Tinder photos with their online biographies.

“The more strips I was looking at, I realized that the colors I was looking at were all one skin tone,” Harley said.

Harley also referenced a free online dating site called OkCupid. The website allows users to filter by race. The website found that nearly 82 percent of non-black male users displayed bias against black women. 

“I went to Smithfield News and bought a ton of variety packs,” Harley said. “There was one that was the Playboy Worlds, and even then there wasn’t a black woman in the entire thing.”

She took her research and idea of collaging and turned it into her thesis project. Harley combined three canvas panels to create one large image.

“I cut a bunch of squares of skin tones out from these pornographic magazines, and I did a gradient from lightest to darkest,” Harley said. “The darkest are actually just folds of skin, or where there is no light. It’s not actually a darker skin tone.”

Harley hopes to start a dialogue about the types of pornography people are watching, and how this discrimination is being portrayed in mass media. After graduation, she will attend grad school at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, New York City. 

The full article can be seen here

Detail image from  Untitled (Pornography)  at  XIII  at the Mine Factory

Detail image from Untitled (Pornography) at XIII at the Mine Factory

Installation of the work surrounded by talented artists  Abigail Wright  (far left),  Neil Curran  (right of  Untitled (Pornography) ), and  Ryan Maine  (far right).

Installation of the work surrounded by talented artists Abigail Wright (far left), Neil Curran (right of Untitled (Pornography)), and Ryan Maine (far right).

And I'd be remiss not to thank my incredible support network, who have carried me through this journey. My friends and family have been such spectacular co-authors of this work, and I'm forever grateful for the countless critiques, abundant love, the nights spent watching Netflix or eating the College Special from Geneoa's Pizzeria. They've helped me sort the squares used for this project (special loving goes out to Julianne Griffith, Ren Rathbone, Dane Hager, Ryan Maine, Michelle Montana). They've laughed at the absurdity and told me my work is terrible (special shoutout to Alex Papke, who gave me my first truly painful critique). They've been there to help both the good stuff and the bad stuff be made, and I'm forever grateful to have such a spectacular group of creatives to call my friends. They've been vital to my artistic and human growth, which, over the past year, has been astronomical, and it is thanks to the community I found at Point Park. Love always. 

Next up : a solo exhibition at Repair the World - Hope to see you at the opening reception, which will be Friday, May 20th, 2016 from 6:00 - 9:00 pm in East Liberty, Pittsburgh, PA.