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The Ethnic Origins of Beauty



I wanted to do something special for Women’s History Month, so I contacted Natalia Ivanova, the brilliant photographic artist behind Les Origines de la Beauté (The Ethnic Origins of Beauty). Acknowledged by UNESCO, the project seeks to “contribute to the harmonization and strengthening of tolerance in inter-ethnic relations through searching for beauty in every people,” with a goal of “building “respect for the particularities of each other [and] encouraging intercultural dialogue. To reach the hearts of the wider international and multicultural public, the language of beauty has been chosen.”

The project recruits women volunteers, aged 18–35, who come from at least three generations of a single ethnic group. Their photographs are then used to create stunning pieces of art.

According to Ivanova, “90% of existing peoples stay invisible, because they are not presented as independent countries.” China, for example, is comprised of 56 recognized ethnic groups, with Han Chinese making up the vast majority. But that still leaves tens of millions of people—the Bai, Zhuang, Manchu, Uyghur, and so on—of distinctly different ancestry and cultural modes. “The objective of this project,” says Ivanova, “is to show the real scale of ethnocultural diversity in a full, systematic and creative way; to illustrate each and every distinctive ethnicity, however small it is, and whatever its official status.”

When I told her how important the values of universal love and acceptance are to our school, she generously gave me permission to make some prints of her work. These can now be seen outside Room 15, where I've included them in our class project celebrating women.

Ms. Ivanova has so far documented more than fifty ethnic groups on four continents, with the ultimate goal of including a representative of every known ethnicity. Les Origines is a nonprofit, and relies on grants and donations to continue its mission. If you’re interested in supporting the project, please visit www.lesoriginesdelabeaute.com/en for more details.


Joseph Schneider is one of our fifth grade teachers and an acclaimed author.


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