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Senior Thesis

Hello, My name is Jessalyn Smith!

Thank you for viewing my senior thesis work for my BA in Photography/Digital Art at Lycoming College.

If you have any questions about this work, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Breaking the

Chains of Discrimination

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

– Malcolm X, 1962

This statement still reigns true in 2020.

My art aims to show the struggles, insecurities, and societal boundaries forced upon Women of Color, especially Black Women, in society and the media. Silenced and discriminated against, Black Women are plagued by over-sexualization, starting at an extremely young age. Seeing my struggle and pain in the images promotes empathy and/or discomfort due to the recognition of the pain or the uncomfortability the images cause.


Though these are self-portraits, I am not only commenting on my own experiences but the experiences of Women of Color living in society today.


Wrapped in flowers and glowing in pigments, you find the flip side of things. Black Women are and should be proud of the curve in their hips, color of their skin, and curl of their hair.  Society shoots us down and yet we still flourish, conquering the obstacles one by one.

These images were taken unassisted and in solitude. This encouraged true expression of emotions and reflection on past experiences.

"Invisible" Silencer

Not Your Pawn, Not Your Trophy

Blooming Regardless

Glowing Through the Dark

Symbolism Explained


Breaking the Chains of Discrimination

“One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.” - Martin Luther King Jr, 1963

"Chains of Discrimination" was derived from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's I Have a Dream speech. Over 55 years ago, Dr. King and many others were still fighting for the basic rights of African-American people,100 years after African-Americans were proclaimed "free". We have not stopped fighting. The battle was never fully won.

"Invisible" Silencer

Too often, People of Color are told that their struggle is nonexistent, that our "imaginary" hardships are self-inflicted. This couldn't be further from the truth. Our "invisible" silencer is very real, apparent, and overpowering. This nation was built on the backs of the "other" and we have yet to shake that classification. We are brutalized, impoverished, abandoned, and murdered due to ignorance and racism every single day. Our discrimination is far from concealed.

Not Your Pawn, Not Your Trophy

Black Women are controlled and manipulated by society. "Do this with your hair", "change this feature about yourself", "that body shape is disgusting - get rid of it", "make yourself smaller - physically, emotionally, and mentally". Those are just a few of the things we hear every day. We are so controlled to the point that we have to wait for laws to make it okay to wear our hair the way it naturally grows out of our heads. 47 states still have not banned discrimination based on hair. 

Though we are so discriminated against and controlled, the world wants to be us. Copying our natural shape, darker complexion, vernacular, inventions, art, music, and so much more. The whole world wants to be us up until it's time to fight alongside us.

Blooming Regardless

"You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise."

- Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, 1978

Despite our hardships and tribulations, we bloom out of the dust regardless. We relentlessly fight for our right and freedom to live the lives we want. We step over racist obstacles, conquering them one by one. We still rise.

Glowing Through the Dark

Black people have been ridiculed because of the features of our faces. Our lips are too plump, nose too wide, ears too prominent, eyebrows too bushy, and so much more. By making each of those features more prominent with glowing blacklight paint, more attention is drawn to those beautiful features that make us who we are. We literally glow through the dark and shine regardless of hatred.

Within the Art:

Clear Tape

Representation of what society deems as our nonexistent hardships.


A physical and metaphorical binding of identity and expression. 


Suppressed emotions finally being showed yet moments away from being wiped away with the hand. Black People are forced to hold in emotions and suffer in solitude due to society's racist fear of our expression turning violent.


The hatred of our bodies comes from over-sexualization and control. The gripping of the skin causing painful indentations and strain represents that physically.


Wearing our hair the way our hair grows out of our head naturally is a source of bullying as a child and legal repercussions as an adult. Sometimes makes us want to cut it all off removing that part of our identity.


Flowers are used to represent growth, abundance, joy, laughter, adaptation, and self-love.

Chain with Flowers

Beauty grows from the dirt. People of Color are known to take hard situations and flip them upside down, continuing to fight for their rights. Those chains are now covered in our passion, creativity, and never-ending drive for a better life.

Blacklight paint

This is a physical representation of the shine Black Women and all women of color possess. We have the ability to push through hardships and keep going despite hard and dark times.

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