Term Paper: Art Analysis of an Advertisement: Our African

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Art

Analysis of an Advertisement:

Our African Identity is Gwyneth Paltrow's African Identity

Denotative Description:

Advertisements make us of a wide range of visual techniques in an attempt to create an atmosphere and convey a message. The representation at hand is an image of the actress Gwyneth Paltrow set against a dark and featureless background. The name of the actress appears near the type in small, light-colored letters that cross the background and end over the top right side of her face. The words "I am African" appear prominently, in all capitals, across the entire bottom of the picture, standing out against everything else in a vivid purple. Two painted stripes reminiscent of African native face paint - one dark blue, and the other light blue - pass under Paltrow's left eye - again providing a strong dash of color that contrasts notably with her fair skin and long, billowing blond hair. The actress' neck is almost completely encased in an African beaded necklace. Long strings of black beads terminate in rows of white beads that fan out across Paltrow's collar bone and below. Near the top of these strands, the lines of black and white are broken by a stretch of mottled, perhaps grayish, beads that add a further bit of variation to the otherwise monochromatic ornament. Below, and surrounding the necklace, Paltrow's flesh is bare, her shoulders and chest appearing to occupy the entirety of the lower third of the picture. Her right shoulder disappears beneath a floating cascade of blond hair that merges into the edge of the image. Paltrow's face is set somewhat to the left-hand side of the image as seen from the viewer's perspective. Her eyes are heavy-leaded, and are underscored by thick bands of dark make-up, an over-application of the typical style of Western eye make-up that further increases the effect of heaviness. Her eyes look toward the viewer but slightly to the viewer's right. Her eyes appear dark, possibly a very dark blue, and her lips sport a careful, and fashionable, application of light red lipstick; the mouth unsmiling and straight, as it to seems to fade off toward the viewer's left.

Connotative Description:

The advertisement presents a gendered image of a typical, fashionable Western White woman. Gender is noted in particular by the long and full blond hair; the carefully made-up lips and the thick bands of eye shadow. But for the overly heavy application of the eye shadow, Paltrow is the picture of Western fashion - the kind of woman one might see modeling in a popular, upscale magazine, or in a television commercial for designer clothing or similarly trendy goods. Yet, the actress is also an African, just as the text informs us. The bands of face paint are of a style that would easily be recognized by the typical Western viewer as "native," if not necessarily African. The necklace too, carries the connotation of "native." Much as her hair and make-up are typical of that seen in fashionable Western advertisements, the necklace's native qualities mimic the kind of jewelry worn by Africans in such publications as National Geographic, or on various documentaries of native life as seen on the Discovery Channel, or the Travel Channel, and on other similar sites. Paltrow's necklace could easily be worn by a Masai warrior. Native and Western elements are connoted primarily through visual symbols that are associated in the public, Western mind with either concept.

Interestingly, gender is conveyed clearly only on the side of the Western imagery, there being no particular attempt to gender the native symbols. Indeed, the contrast between the Western and African symbols used appears intended to send the message that the African world is universal, that, we are all Africans. Gender and class disappear when confronted with the realities of the African world. The West is merely cosmetic, Paltrow's bare flesh indicating the "stripping away" of the conceits of Western culture. These conceits include the deeply entrenched belief that outward appearances matter more than inward values. Western women (and men) have separated themselves into categories that have no real meaning. Civilization - or the veneer of civilization i.e. The lipstick, eye make-up, hairstyle, etc. - is but a disguise that we each wear.

Gender, especially, stands out as one of the primary examples of Western civilization. Whether or not that category actually does not exist in the African world, the message of the image is that gender is a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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