The Caste Portraits investigate the practice of the grading from black to white of skin colour, which marked the extent of racial mixing in 18th century colonial Haiti. Moreau de St Mery, a French colonialist living in Haiti, created a surreal taxonomy of race which classified skin colour from black to white using names borrowed from mythology, natural history and bestial miscegenation.
Each name corresponds with a percentage of the fusion of black and white blood. As Colin Dayan, a Haitian historian, comments, ‘Stranger than any supernatural fiction, the radical irrationality of Moreau St Mery’s methods demonstrates to what lengths the imagination can go if driven by racial prejudice.’
Leah Gordon made the Caste Portraits depicting the nine skin varieties, with herself at one end of the scale as ‘Blanche’, and her partner, Andre Eugene, a Haitian sculptor, at the other end of the racial spectrum as ‘Noir’.