Exhibit features Black hair and its complicated roots
By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Black hair is a hot topic – from fashion to self-esteme. Every year, billions of dollars are spent by African Americans on hair care. In order to highlight the importance of Black hair to the African American community, LaShonda Cooks, a visual artist based in Dallas, curated an art exhibit called Hair Story: Myths, Magic and Methods of Black Hair.
“The show seeks to celebrate Black hair and its complicated roots,” Cooks said. “The goal of the show is to highlight not just Black hair but from a lense of what are the myths and myths from within our community and outside of our community about Black hair. What’s the magic and kind of highlighting the cool stuff that we love and also just showcasing some of the processes and the highlights of creating it.”
The exhibit featured artwork created by Cooks and other artists such as Art-Fro Kreationz, Ciara Elle Bryant, Danielle Demetria, Feniiix Raiii, Loosemedium and Youveline Joseph. It started Nov. 14 and will run until Feb. 13 at the African American Museum in Fair Park, located at 3536 Grand Ave.
“Self Love is something that I needed to be reminded of as I go through my day to day life and all the stresses of what I am trying to do, basic stresses of coronavirus and being stuck inside,” said Adrian McMillon, also known as Loosemedium. “I chose to do this piece to kind of keep me out of that space. It fit perfectly with Hair Story because it was about hair love. I think it is a great way to showcase an amazing story, the story of Black hair. It’s such an important thing in our community whether it is the prejudices of it or just the love and different ways we can express ourselves through our hair.
Cooks got the idea for the show after she heard poet Rage Almighty perform at an event in Dallas.
“This last summer I had a chance to see him perform and he performed a piece about hair. And that key and key lines in that poem basically kind of jump started this whole idea of Hair Story where basically he said, ‘Don’t forget the women who twist, who cut, who primp, who weave, the women who sleep uncomfortably and sit in the same spot for hours just to get their hair right for themselves.’ So just kind of how that line kind of stopped me in my tracks.”
In the African American community, hair care is not just about oneself, Cooks explained.
“I think in our community regarding hair care the people that are behind the chair who we trust with our hair plays an important role and they don’t necessarily get their flowers,” she said. “I kind of wanted to find a way to do that for the women and the people that actually have such as my beautician – starting with my first one, which is my grandmother, but I basically had three to four over my lifetime. One of the key things I wanted to do in this show was highlight them the way I am doing it personally.”
Cooks highlighted the hair stylists through a series of small portraits that included pictures of women doing the work and doing different types of hairstyles – such as her grandmother and her first three beauticians which are all featured as part of the exhibit.
“The other component I wanted to bring in because hair care and Black hair is such a huge topic and is being explored by lots of artists, I wanted to bring in the other voices here locally that do a lot of cool work in the area,” Cooks said. I thought it was important to see the people who show and build on each other’s concept.”
Seven artists took part in the show. Cooks said they all inspired her in some way.
“One of the things you will see in the exhibit is a salon chair and that salon chair I literally purchased from another artist, Danielle Demetria who has an inspiration piece in the show,” she said. “I saw that chair as part of her residency project last summer, and she was moving to Lubbock and said I need to get rid of it and sell it. I said I will buy it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I just knew it would be cool to kind of transform it here in some way. But it is fun to give it kind of new life in my exhibit while I am paying homage to the work that she has done and kind of her creative process.You see a lot of that in the show kind of seeing different artists and kind of building off on the work that they already have done.”
Cooks said the exhibit has two different audiences. The primary audience is the community, which she hopes to help shine a light on their beauty while exploring the complicated nature of Black hair.
“In our community, the things we tell ourselves or the self-conscious vibes and biases we kind of have to overcome or have overcome,” she explained.
The audience would be people who aren’t from the Black community but want to learn more, are curious and have questions about Black hair – “Why can’t I touch your hair? Why isn’t it okay for me to ask or tell you what my favorite hairstyle is on you?” etc.
Cooks also hoped the exhibition would shed a light onto the process behind the scenes regarding Black hair.
“It’s not just hair, it’s a whole history behind it spiritually, it’s emotional, it’s economic, it’s all these things so you have to approach it accordingly,” she said.
She went on to discuss the economic impact Black hair has.
“It is so important economically, literally people have to choose between ‘Hey, do I want to get my hair done or am I going to get this bill paid?’ It is expensive, it is not cheap and knowing what products to use and how to take care of your hair is not easy,” she said. “You have to kind of research it and have all this time to kind of figure out what works best for you.”
One of her pieces displayed a collection of articles on Black hair.
“I went into a library and I pooled all these articles. One of them talked about how basically Black hair was a billion dollar industry. Another mentioned … people in Canada were upset about Black hair products being kept behind a locked case and stuff like that. So I learned just how to touch on all these different aspects of hair,” she said.
There was another article that talked about product safety, examining how people were spending money on products without properly screening it or looking at what chemicals were going into it. Cooks said she wanted to illustrate the irony of the business, in which people from outside of the Black community profit more than the Black community, including those who provide Black hair care services.
The exhibit isn’t just for women. Two male artists are showcased in the exhibit.
“Art-Fro Kreationz is Nigerian American and he submitted five pieces with traditional African braiding style, which are stunning,” she said. “We also have Loosemedium who did a beautiful work on wood. That is what he is known for – painintng on wood. And it is this really intricate painting called ‘Self Love’ facing young Black girls with her plats and a large greenery around her. One of the most interesting things is hearing the guys talking about it, because when you think about Black hair I automatically go towards Black women. But it matters to guys as well. Their hair is a huge part of their lives just as is ours, and it is cool to hear their voices and them being vulnerable.”
Feniiix Raiii, a female artist who does photography, incorporated men into her hair series called, ‘Rep Yo Hair Series.’
“I was excited that LaShonda had a series promoting natural hair. My series, ‘Rep Yo Hair,’ actually was a series that I started two years ago,” Raiii said. “My images represent or tell a story of the unique individual and their natural hair. So with each image on the instagram page that I have, there is a quote for each model that I took a picture of. Every image is just sharing the sparkiness, the uniqueness, the beauty and everything that makes each individual model just beautiful as they are and with their all-natural hairstyle. This series empowers others in the community to continue on their natural hair journey and to be inspired to share their own natural hair story.”
The draws the audience close to the subjects through each article, according to the curator.
“There is an article and component where you can literally hear the voices of the people that modeled for her talking about the hair,” Cooks said.
The exhibit also tackled myths about Black hair. For this, she partnered with Glimmer 411, a company that specializes in helping women of color and with texture to find the right products for their hair.
“I asked them if they could come and kind of provide me with some myths about Black hair that are kind of circulating and one of them is Black hair doesn’t grow,” Cooks said. “I think it is self conscious when we think about long hair. And the ‘good hair’ question helps us to reimagine or rethink the things we tell ourselves about our hair and also give our hair. When you think about our own hair story, what is your hair story? What is your hair narrative? I think we each have to come to a point whether it is natural, whether it is straight, whether it is bald to know whatever temple you are given and what you are working with and hopefully that resonates with the show.”
The myths of Black hair were woven throughout the exhibit. Along the walls were a series of small plates that have myths of Black hair printed on them.
“There is a series of small plates and we printed the myths on plates that are placed strategically throughout the exhibit and mixed it with artwork where they are able to see and chew on these myths as they take in the artwork like one of them is about braids and the origins of braids,” she said.
Poetry was another component of the show.
“The poetry component is manifested in a few ways, one of which is a salon chair that I brought from Danielle. And I woke up in the middle of the night and had an idea basically to incorporate the words from that poem that sparked this whole concept onto that salon chair. So you will see those words kind of spray painted onto that chair,” she said. “Also, Danielle is a poet and she has a powerful poetry called Melanated Magic, that if you come, throughout the exhibit some people will get to hear two audios of poets as they go through the exhibit from her work.”
As part of the event, a virtual Hair-oetry Poetry Workshop with Nappyisms creator Linda Jones was held Nov. 14.
“A Hair-oetry is a play on poetry. And we had a poetry workshop for two weeks – basically where if your hair could pop, what it would say?” Cooks said. “I wanted to get people’s stories no matter how they felt.”
The exhibit will also present a drive-in short film festival on Dec. 5 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the museum’s parking lot.
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