Public Comment: ‘Humanae/I AM AUGUST’

Public Comment is a Site Specific series dedicated to documenting raw reactions to public art from passersby. The goal is to get a glimpse at how public art pieces are engaging with their installation sites.

Up For Comment: “Humanae/I AM AUGUST,” Angélica Dass. Produced by janera solomon and the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in partnership with the Magenta Foundation with support from the Pittsburgh Foundation.

On View: The August Wilson Center for African American Culture, 980 Liberty Ave., Pittsburgh, Penn. September 2015 to August 2016.

About The Piece: The installation is one iteration of the Dass’ ongoing humanae project, a “chromatic inventory” of human skin tones using the Pantone color classification system. Dass photographs her subjects – volunteers, and in this case, all Pittsburghers – against a background dyed with a Pantone color that matches their skin. She presents the portraits on top of their respective Pantone color codes.

From the Magenta Foundation:

The presentation of the range of color shades induce the viewer to reflect on one of the dual meanings containing the word identity: that associated with equality. Humanae is a color catalog in which the “primary” colors have exactly the same importance as “mixed.”


The mural spans almost an entire city block on a busy corridor of downtown Pittsburgh. Performances and events accompanied the artwork’s installation on the August Wilson Center, which has been undergoing a revitalization effort.

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The artist and her subjects. source:

Lisa, frequent Pittsburgh visitor from Ohio.

I think the first time I started walking towards it, I actually stopped even though I really didn’t have the time. I really think it’s cool.
There’s nothing really very similar in Pittsburgh, plus the architecture of the building, too, I think kind of lends to the fact that it draws your eye.
I think oftentimes we don’t really look at peoples’ faces in detail, and certainly not compared next to each other side by side by side.

Rohan, moved to Pittsburgh in August. Studying robotics.

People don’t look happy. Some of them look terrified.
I don’t like looking at naked people.
I felt like there’s some study, and these are some sort of patients, and it’s about some disease awareness. That’s the first thing that came to my mind.
I think it’s missing the point. The point about race [is] to not come across, to me.

Joe, visiting from Virgina for a conference.

Yeah, I was kind of spacing out at it.
It’s nice – just people, raw, no clothes, no nothing. Just kind of chilling, no smiling, no fakeness, just sitting there.
It’s got to have a message of some sort. It could be an ad, right? I don’t know, it’s too artsy to be an ad.
Because it’s so labeled – everything is labeled.

Damon, Pittsburgh resident and security guard.

It’s just a selection of society, and people of different cultures and backgrounds and colors. It’s just a reflection of what life is really all about. It brings people together, I think, personally – I mean it should, anyway.
It’s trying, like, “look, we’re all the same, we’re all here for a common cause, and just get along with each other, quit trippin on each other, and we’re all people.”
I never reflected on how I felt about in terms of positive or negative.
What I try to do is look at some of the [panels] and try to blend in the background with their skin color. And I say, “OK, that’s a perfect match, and that’s a perfect match, but that’s a little off, and that’s a little off.”
The woman with the cropped hair and the afro… whenever I look at the mural I try to find a perfect match with the skin color and I found one with her, almost.

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Damon’s almost perfect match.

Nancy, visiting from Virgina for a conference.

I don’t enjoy it but I don’t not enjoy it.
Here’s how I get – I’m old enough to say it depends. I have no idea what they want me to think. If it’s something wonderful like we’re all very similar in many ways, whether black or red or white or whatever color we are, then I like it. If it’s meant to mean something else by them, then of course I would object.
We discuss the Pantone labeling system.
It [adds to the mural] very much so. In that basically we’re all the same color, we’re just different shades.

Jalaan, Pittsburgh resident, waiting for the bus with her adorable two-year-old. Came downtown for school.

I like how there’s different people on there, and just looks like us people can get along more. And I like the colors.
Last year when I was down here, it was kind of plain, so now it looks more like a building.
I just like it because you know there’s some racist people around, and when they see stuff like this they’ll feel some type of way. But to me, I feel like this is a good thing. We all need to get along together, violence needs to stop.

Kevin, Pittsburgh resident and attorney. Parked his car in an unusual spot and late for work.

I’ve seen pictures of it, first time I’ve seen it live.
Variety, not too many smiles, interesting. What else can I think. It’s cool.
I’m not sure I’d want to make it permanent. But I think it does add – it certainly calls attention to the building, which needs attention called to it.
We’re all the same but we’re all different.

Mary Jean Grimm, Pittsburgh resident.

I just like the pictures.
I just look at different things around the streets, I’m just a street person.
I like the baby pictures. I like the babies in it, that’s cool.
I [look up at] it almost every time I come this way.

Mike, Pittsburgh resident saying goodbye to friends at a hotel downtown.

I think anything that is more interesting than just mere windows and walls is a good thing.
Certainly you can talk about the diversity and the people – age, race, there’s obviously diversity there. But also if you look at expressions, there’s a whole array of expressions. So you could conceivably spend days making up stories about these people.

Deidra, Pittsburgh native who walks this route frequently.

I never knew that was photos until I actually walked up on it.
You have all skin colors, all ages, all sizes. I think it’s actually nice being that the August Wilson Center is an African American culture building.
I feel like probably it was a group decision to do that. I like it though, it’s different.
I’m actually trying to compare the Pantone numbers.
They’re not all perfect. Like Pantone 38-8 C, little girl, [she could be] blended in a little bit better.
Pantone 322-2 C, that matches her skin pretty good.

Austin, composer, moved from Monongahela, Penn. a few weeks ago.

I was trying to think, what are those people doing up there? Wondering what kind of a business it was or something.
As I was walking, I noticed that on the thing it said “for African American Culture,” and I started thinking, well, I see white people up there too.
We discuss the Pantone labeling system.
Oh so that’s what’s in the background. Like one guy’s pink, but he doesn’t look pink.
Whoever’s doing it, keep dreaming, keep dreaming big. Dreams come true.

Erica, walking from work to lunch with a friend.

I think what I noticed most about it is the babies that are up there. And just, it’s all types of people.
You can tell even though they don’t have clothes on that they have different personal styles based on tattoos and piercings, haircuts, hair color.

Mellie, Pittsburgh native, commutes on this route.

I don’t really have no opinion of it.
It makes [the Center] look like it’s a real – it looks like it’s functioning.
I think it looks like nice, it’s very colorful.
I want to be one of those pictures.