The Skin of a Human Being

Joy Li

2017 - 2019

Baltimore, Maryland, United States; Beijing, China

My project "The Skin of a Human Being" discusses how people fit themselves into a ready-made world—playing predetermined social characters, wearing garments designed by me for this project, and agreeing with social constructs, which brings a sense of security through certainty, but also creates restrictions. The title refers to the social skin developed by constant learning and imitating existing examples of behavior. We are living under those social skins as though living under others’ experiences.

My mother is the first ‘other’ I met. I used to be genderless, but became a woman by learning from her, mythological goddesses, and my reflection in the eyes of others. In one of the images I wear a table-dress where floral patterns painted on the table are collected from my mother's floral dresses—my mom's skin. The imagery of artificial flowers plays a strong role in this project. The flower symbolizes femininity, beauty, prosperity, and desirability. This is further evidenced as they will not fade, allowing the viewer to hold their desires more firmly and certainly.

Similarly, the golden apple represents perfection and desirability. The image in which I wear a golden frame with a golden apple hanging in front of my head references "The Judgement of Paris", a story from Greek mythology. Three goddesses within the myth compete for recognition as being perfect in the eyes of the judge, Paris, to win a golden apple, with an inscription that reads: "ΤΗΙ ΚΑΛΛΙΣΤΗΙ” (“to the most beautiful”). To convince the judge, they aim to make themselves desirable in his eyes. This golden apple not only represents the impossible goal set up for females, but also reflects the desire of males.

Following those well-explored paths and playing recognizable roles protects us from uncertainty, but they also prevent us from creating our own part of the world. Those social skins are like protective coveralls offering safety but also bondage. The latex garment I created explores these themes as do the images of my skin imprinted by mattress coils.

Therefore, "The Skin of a Human Being" is meant to reflect and address women, in a variety of circumstances as they maneuver through their lives.

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  • Myself and I under my mom’s skin

  • Referencing "The Judgement of Paris", a story from Greek mythology

  • Me under a chameleon’s skin

  • My skin imprinted by mattress coils