Triptych: Skin color panel, Felix von Luschan - Puhl & Wagner, Gottfried Heinersdorf, Berlin, 1926 - Metal, glass
Triptych: International Barbies - Plastic, fabric
Triptych: Skinmarker - Christiane Hamacher, Berlin, 2005 - Acrylic on medium-density fiberboard

Skin color was once considered a distinguishing racial characteristic, along with skull shape and hair structure. In 1905 anthropologist Felix von Luschan developed a 36-tone scale for classifying skin color. This skin color panel constructed of opaque glass could be purchased from the Berlin Ethnography Museum. Until the 1940s it helped explorers conduct “observations of living people.” As early as 1911 Luschan had rejected skin color as a racial classification criterion because different parts of the body exhibit different pigmentations depending on exposure to sunlight.

Skin color panel

Developed in cooperation with Felix v. Luschan (1854–1924)
Metal, glass
Institute for Human Genetics and Anthropology, Jena

Barbie dolls, which were first manufactured in the 1960s, demonstrate that skin color can be a key distinguishing feature. The dolls use only a limited number of head and body shapes, regardless of whether they represent African-American, Hispanic, or Asian women. As shown by the Dolls of the World series, the most important factor for identifying a doll’s ethnic affiliation is its skin color—and of course its stereotypical clothing and hairstyles.

Dolls of the World

International series of Barbie dolls: Polynesian, French, German, Native American, Australian, Puerto Rican, Ghanaian, Mexican, Kenyan, Chinese, Dutch, Russian, Spanish, Norwegian, and Indian
Plastic, fabric
Bettina Dorfmann, Barbie-Klinik Düsseldorf

The significans artists’ group has attempted to show that biological data still play a decisive role in issues surrounding residence rights and deportations. For its “skin marker” project in October 2002, the group asked members of the audience at the Volksbühne theater in Berlin to mix their own skin color using acrylic paints. The rest of the audience had headphones to follow the ensuing conversations on skin color, personal identity, and acceptance of others.

Skin Marker

Christiane Hamacher, Berlin, 2005
Acrylic on medium-density fiberboard
Christiane Hamacher