By Dr. Tameka Ellington, Speaker, Creator, and Cocurator of “TEXTURES: the history and artwork of Black hair”

People of African descent have hair that is like no other race of folks. It is the range just one racial identifier, skin tone currently being the next. Afro or Black hair grows out of the head like a halo and can be molded, braided, twisted, and wrapped into different styles these types of as these 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 outcome of colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade.

Even with far more than 400 several years of struggling by way of racial and hair discrimination and the need to assimilate to society’s dominant beauty ideas, which required that Black people today straighten their hair, several Black folks have identified strategies to enjoy by themselves and their hair. During the 1960s and 1970s’ Black Is Beautiful movement, organic hair was styled in approaches that evoked the consideration of trend and preferred tradition, major to hairstyle appropriation amongst non-Blacks, these types of as singer Barbara Streisand and actress Bo Derek. Nevertheless, Black hair discrimination persisted. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was no for a longer time trendy to wear normal Black hair models, and they before long pale absent, right until their reemergence in the 2000s. Today, Black hair is this from time to time-in and other-times-out trendy icon that can be found in city streets throughout the world. Many thanks to the popularity of avenue use, large manner has develop into obtainable to bad Blacks. Hence, hairstyles have proceeded to become far more innovative with the essence of a mix concerning contemporary and classic aptitude.

In the Kent Point out University exhibition that I cocurated with Dr. Joseph Underwood entitled TEXTURES: the record and art of Black hair, traditional styling techniques are obvious in the artifacts, as nicely as contemporary ways of hairstyling. West African threading, for case in point, is accomplished by sectioning the hair into smaller or significant containers, applying oil and/or pomade, then wrapping each and every box part with slender wire generating a prolonged branch-like item pointing out the head that can be manipulated into any form the wearer wants. As highlighted in TEXTURES, Joseph Eze’s Stella Pomade is a terrific case in point of common assembly modern day style and design in the image portraying common Nigerian hair threading paired with a modern Louis Vuitton blazer and ascot. This hairstyle, courting again hundreds of several years, was approximately lost. But it has been revived, thanks to creatives these as The New Black Vanguards Jamal Nxedlana and his vogue-forward piece entitled Johannesburg, in which the model is rocking a eco-friendly-threaded hairstyle organized into wild spirals!

Johannesburg, 2019. Jamal Nxedlana (South African, b. 1985). Image courtesy of Aperture, New York, 2019. © Jamal Nxedlana

Braided hairstyles have a lengthy history in the Black lifestyle. According to legend, the first braids had been carried out on the head of the goddess Isis as she mourned at the effectively because of to the reduction of her partner. Close by maidens observed that she was grieving and arrived to comfort her, and in performing 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 ancient Nok artifacts depicting guys sporting the traditional hairstyle. Braided from the Roots by Lebohang Motaung, showcased in TEXTURES, options an outstanding 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 shape, really reminiscent of common Nigerian hairstyles. Shani Crowe, movie star braiding artist, was also encouraged by this condition in her perform entitled Shakere, which presents a cowrie-shelled cone affixed on prime of the head of a beautiful 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 great illustrations of how fashionable manner and regular factors these kinds of as braids and Ankara materials turn out to be amalgamated to produce a exclusive ensemble of color, shape, and line.

Sarah, Lagos, Nigeria, 2015. Namsa Leuba (Swiss, b. 1982). Image courtesy of Aperture, New York, 2019. © Namsa Leuba

Color, shape, and line are integral sections to all very good design, which include the style and design of hair ornaments. For generations, Black hair has been adorned with gold, silver, and other trinkets these kinds of as beads and cowrie shells to produce hairstyles that have been a illustration of standing, persona, and flair. I remember getting a minimal lady and my mom styling my hair in compact ponytails all over my head. At the end of every single ponytail, she affixed a plastic adornment — a barrette. These barrettes had been created by way of a molded die minimize into the shape of flowers, bows, birds, and other animals. I don’t forget swinging my head side to facet just so that I could sense the barrettes graze towards my shoulders. Althea Murphy-Price’s barrettes range 2, demonstrated in the TEXTURES exhibition, brings a perception of nostalgia that only little ladies are privileged to. The pinks, blues, oranges, and sea greens carry 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 very little young children and gives it a subtle, significant-style edge.

Adeline in Barrettes, 2018. Micaiah Carter (American, b. 1995). Impression courtesy of Aperture, New York, 2019. © Micaiah Carter

Performs by Quil Lemons and Devan Shimoyama depict a component of Black society that is normally not talked over. Black queerness continues to generate proverbial black sheep all through communities across the earth. The audacious songs of Lil Nas X aids to carry ahead a subject matter that continues to be swept less than the rug and locked in the closet. New York, from Glitter Boy, a pictures collection by The New Black Vanguard’s Lemons, and Shimoyama’s Elijah, in TEXTURES, the two use sparkle and hues of pink as a way to stand for the essence of femininity in queer male figures. Shimoyama’s sequence referred to as Crybaby depicts adult males and boys in a barbershop embellished with crystal teardrops representing the discomfort that is normally felt by queer males heading into hypermasculine barbershop spaces. When a barbershop is an setting where most heterosexual Black gentlemen commune and join with their group, queer males have an obverse experience. Both of those artists’ operates query society’s strategy of what Black masculinity is supposed to be.

New York, 2017. Quil Lemons (American, b. 1997). Image courtesy of Aperture, New York, 2019, and De Buck Gallery. © Quil Lemons

From threading to braids, barrettes, and sparkles of “queerful” joy, Black hair in and of itself is an artwork sort, an artwork variety that has been simultaneously celebrated and despised. It carries on to be the item of many artists’ inspiration simply because of its relationship to cultural battle and self-acceptance, vogue, and controversy. Black hair will keep on being the muse of potential artists to arrive. Quite a few yrs from now, you will see that my prophesy was proper. Black hair under no circumstances dies!