Unwrap Black Hair: Exposing Layers
Photo courtesy of Néfertari Pierre-Louis.
Planted prominently on a pedestal in the Cummings Art Center is a graffiti lounge chair draped in lengths of oversized loc’s. The abstract display is both bold and magnetic, enticing students who enter the building to work in the classroom or studio, transforming their rushing steps into slow, curious ones around the gallery. Above the coin is the word “NAPPY,” five letters formed against black hair, salvaged and reused by curator Juanita Austin. The exhibition is an ode to cornrows, coils and curls stigmatized and militarized by the Eurocentric eye. We are in a time when black hair begs to be Hair, not civilized, not political, and not a representation of character. NAPPY exhibits the work of nine artists whose art speaks of power, struggle and the beauty of darkness.
Our country vacillates on a very thin line, shamelessly oscillating between progress and the obvious absence of it. For black Americans, the CROWN Act (a law that prohibits hair discrimination based on race) is yet another distressing sign that society has simply put forward. Black hair has long suffered the effects of social degradation, smoothing out to appease white eyes, forgetting that it is not Afro that disturbs them, but the skin color that represents it. DRefusing the pressure to perm her black girlish curls, deemed “unprofessional” and “poorly groomed” in classrooms and the workplace, continues to be a rebellious act of self-esteem, of strength. and sacrifice.
“My hair doesn’t want to be colonized. I realized this and I located it, ”says star photographer Bizzie R. Through her lens we see Blackness in her candid form, untouched by stereotypes and harmful narratives, beautifully radiant and kind. His work appears in a gallery room adjacent to the main exhibition hall; inside, part of a living room is fitted out. Thick combs, perm products, a straight wig and flat irons clutter the table to evoke, in black women, memories of nights under luminous vanity as the firm hands of a stylist wash, separate and pull your hair. hair in one look.
On the surrounding walls are two fascinating pieces by the multidisciplinary artist KIN. Her framed illustrations, “Tender Headed” and “The Kitchen,” take inspiration from the depth and design of a tarot deck, inviting the viewer to recall important domestic spaces where conversations took place while hair was combed and untangled.
For the exhibiting artist Greg Aimé, art and technology merge to offer viewers an enhanced viewing experience. His Afrofuturistic collages flourish with animation through the Artivive app, which allows visitors to take a snapshot of his work and wait for its sharp visual distortion.
NAPPY is a dive into the deep duality of black art, which, in its most vulnerable state, merges personal pain with the pain of navigating societal racism. The giants of the black art cannon weave the pain of racial unrest with their own personal issues, courageously turning pain and injustice into masterpieces. The lounge chair and its dramatic locs decoration, placed in the center of the glossy floors of Cummings’ Gallery, symbolize the space that black hair and black people can, and should, occupy.
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