By Dr. Tameka Ellington, Speaker, Writer, and Cocurator of “TEXTURES: the heritage and art of Black hair”
People today of African descent have hair that is like no other race of folks. It is the variety one particular racial identifier, pores and skin tone staying the next. Afro or Black hair grows out of the head like a halo and can be molded, braided, twisted, and wrapped into a variety of designs this sort of as all those of the West African Fulani tribe or the Mangbetu tribe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The textural distinction of Black hair has been negatively othered as a final result of colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade.
Irrespective of far more than 400 many years of suffering through racial and hair discrimination and the need to have to assimilate to society’s dominant splendor thoughts, which necessary that Black individuals straighten their hair, lots of Black men and women have located ways to love by themselves and their hair. All through the 1960s and 1970s’ Black Is Stunning movement, purely natural hair was styled in techniques that evoked the attention of vogue and common society, major to hairstyle appropriation amongst non-Blacks, these as singer Barbara Streisand and actress Bo Derek. On the other hand, Black hair discrimination persisted. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was no for a longer period modern to don purely natural Black hair styles, and they quickly pale away, till their reemergence in the 2000s. Right now, Black hair is this from time to time-in and other-situations-out trendy icon that can be observed in urban streets across the world. Thanks to the level of popularity of avenue have on, significant manner has turn out to be accessible to very poor Blacks. Hence, hairstyles have proceeded to turn out to be far more inventive with the essence of a mix in between present day and regular flair.
In the Kent Condition College exhibition that I cocurated with Dr. Joseph Underwood entitled TEXTURES: the heritage and art of Black hair, standard styling techniques are obvious in the artifacts, as properly as modern techniques of hairstyling. West African threading, for case in point, is reached by sectioning the hair into compact or big containers, making use of oil and/or pomade, then wrapping each box area with thin wire producing a lengthy branch-like item pointing out the head that can be manipulated into any condition the wearer dreams. As featured in TEXTURES, Joseph Eze’s Stella Pomade is a excellent example of standard meeting modern layout in the graphic portraying vintage Nigerian hair threading paired with a present day Louis Vuitton blazer and ascot. This hairstyle, courting back again hundreds of many years, was nearly lost. But it has been revived, thanks to creatives this kind of as The New Black Vanguard’s Jamal Nxedlana and his vogue-forward piece entitled Johannesburg, where the model is rocking a eco-friendly-threaded hairstyle arranged into wild spirals!
Braided hairstyles have a very long historical past in the Black lifestyle. In accordance to legend, the initially braids ended up performed on the head of the goddess Isis as she mourned at the nicely thanks to the decline of her partner. Nearby maidens saw that she was grieving and arrived to consolation her, and in doing so, they braided her hair. The hairstyle referred to as cornrows in the United States, or canerows in the Caribbean, dates back again to as early as 550 BC, to historical Nok artifacts depicting gentlemen putting on the regular hairstyle. Braided from the Roots by Lebohang Motaung, showcased in TEXTURES, attributes an amazing braided hairstyle that is parted into skinny rows woven tightly to the canvas. The crown of the illustrated head is structured into a braided cone condition, extremely reminiscent of classic Nigerian hairstyles. Shani Crowe, celebrity braiding artist, was also encouraged by this shape in her do the job entitled Shakere, which provides a cowrie-shelled cone affixed on leading of the head of a wonderful Black girl. The New Black Vanguard’s Sarah, Lagos, Nigeria by Namsa Leuba depicts a woman with stylish yellow-and-black cornrowed hair. These parts are marvelous examples of how modern-day trend and traditional things this kind of as braids and Ankara materials come to be amalgamated to build a exclusive ensemble of shade, form, and line.
Coloration, form, and line are integral areas to all very good design and style, like the design and style of hair ornaments. For centuries, Black hair has been adorned with gold, silver, and other trinkets such as beads and cowrie shells to create hairstyles that have been a illustration of status, temperament, and aptitude. I remember getting a minor female and my mother styling my hair in little ponytails all more than my head. At the end of each individual ponytail, she affixed a plastic adornment — a barrette. These barrettes have been developed by way of a molded die slice into the condition of flowers, bows, birds, and other animals. I bear in mind swinging my head aspect to aspect just so that I could come to feel the barrettes graze versus my shoulders. Althea Murphy-Price’s barrettes number 2, revealed in the TEXTURES exhibition, brings a feeling of nostalgia that only small ladies are privileged to. The pinks, blues, oranges, and sea greens provide back again memories of matching rompers and skirts swinging in the wind. The New Black Vanguard’s Adeline in Barrettes by Micaiah Carter is a photograph that captures the innovation of French songstress Adeline and how she refreshes an adornment meant for small youngsters and offers it a innovative, higher-vogue edge.
Works by Quil Lemons and Devan Shimoyama depict a aspect of Black lifestyle that is usually not mentioned. Black queerness carries on to make proverbial black sheep all through communities throughout the earth. The audacious audio of Lil Nas X allows to carry ahead a topic that proceeds to be swept below the rug and locked in the closet. New York, from Glitter Boy, a images series by The New Black Vanguard’s Lemons, and Shimoyama’s Elijah, in TEXTURES, both use sparkle and hues of pink as a way to characterize the essence of femininity in queer male figures. Shimoyama’s sequence called Crybaby depicts males and boys in a barbershop embellished with crystal teardrops representing the suffering that is typically felt by queer males likely into hypermasculine barbershop spaces. While a barbershop is an setting in which most heterosexual Black males commune and connect with their local community, queer men have an obverse working experience. Both artists’ performs question society’s notion of what Black masculinity is meant to be.
From threading to braids, barrettes, and sparkles of “queerful” joy, Black hair in and of by itself is an artwork form, an artwork sort that has been concurrently celebrated and despised. It proceeds to be the object of lots of artists’ inspiration because of its link to cultural wrestle and self-acceptance, manner, and controversy. Black hair will continue being the muse of foreseeable future artists to arrive. A number of several years from now, you will see that my prophesy was proper. Black hair never ever dies!