The Colour of Silence Project Letícia Barreto


Whitewash [1]


1. a mixture of lime, whiting, size, water, etc., for whitening walls, etc.

2. a cosmetic formerly used for making the skin fair

3.            a. - glossing over or concealing of faults or defects in an effort to exonerate or give the appearance of soundness

                b.  - something said or done for this purpose

4.  US, Sport; Informal a defeat in which the loser scores no points

Verb transitive

5. to cover with whitewash

6. to gloss over or conceal the faults or defects of; give a favorable interpretation of or a falsely virtuous appearance to

7.  US, Sport; Informal to defeat (an opponent) soundly


Belonging to the symbolic domain, the white color, rather than a simple physiological mechanism and a physical phenomenon, is mainly linked to cultural and psychological aspects. White has been associated with purity, innocence, cleanliness, peace, happiness, armistice, and neutrality. It is seen as a symbol of goodness, beauty, and perfection. Despite all the symbolism associated with it, white is not as innocent as it is usually judged.  Throughout history, the "purest" color became, in some occasions, the color which shows the darkest side of human instinct. It is the color of totalitarianism, separation, prejudice, and intolerance and is also considered the color that divides, excludes, and controls. [2]

As Grada Kilomba says: "White is not a color. White is a political definition, which represents historical, political and social privileges of a certain group that has access to dominant structures and institutions of society. Whiteness represents the reality and history of a certain group. When we talk about what it means to be white, then we talk about politics and certainly not about biology. Just like the term black is a political identity, which refers to historicity, political and social realities and not to biology".  [3]

The chemical reaction using the bleach on cloth is a metaphor to an ethnocentric “whitewash of thought". The trace of prejudice, as well as that of bleach, is profound and permanent.​


The Colour of Silence

"Through the idea of whitewash as a synonym for purification, Letícia Barreto´s work reveals what is behind the colonialist discourse when it tries to justify or reinforce the ideology of racial inferiority of nonwhites. Through a kind of erasing process, resulting from the use of bleach and abrasion, to bleach out the surfaces she works on, the artist suggests a kind of forgetfulness, as if the white could hide or overlap the black. It is an attack that depigments the surface, whether it be fabric or photography, leaving only a glimpse, a shadow of a neglected culture. In this palimpsest, the light that should be used to clarify, to unveil,  to shed a light on, just helps to hide, dimming the sight of one who tries to get closer to observe what seems to be the real truth. The white becomes silence, absence, oblivion, wiping the difference off. This difference is not appreciated, but exoticized and taken to the category of the bizarre."

Fernanda Monteiro (curator)


[1] Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

[2] James Fox. BBC – The History of Art in Three Colors – White.