Steven Cozart – Why are You White? Edith Cozart, from Pass/Fail series
Dimensions: 35 x 16″ finished size
Medium: charcoal and pastel on paper bag
Steve Cozart’s practice comes from a love of drawing, and his stunning draftsmanship is present in every composition. His finished compositions are mixed media explorations utilizing acrylic ink, charcoal, pastel, and collage, which come together to tell the story of hierarchies, colorism, and texturism within his own community.
For source material he draws on conversations and recorded interviews often around the concept of the paper bag test. He says that even if his subjects have not heard of the test specifically it doesn’t take long for them to understand the underlying concept: if an African American person’s skin is lighter than the color of a paper bag, it would afford that person access to certain social circles, jobs, and often economic advantages. While colorism has its roots in slavery, from 1900 until about 1950, many churches, fraternities, and nightclubs used the “brown paper bag” test as a principle for entrance. During this time it was not uncommon for historically black colleges in the United States to employ the paper bag test on applicants. While such blatant colorism is for the most part a thing of the past, like any deep-rooted and historical social practice the reverberations of it can still be felt today. Cozart employs similar artistic methods to explore the pencil test and texturism as well.