A Braided Narrative: ‘A Contemporary Survey of African American Hair Culture’

By January 27, 2021 No Comments

Transition into Womanhood 1 by Kenyatta Crisp

By Alona Williams
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer

“Roots Run Deep: A Contemporary Survey of African American Hair Culture”  located at the Brewhouse Association on the Southside, is an exhibit that displays the range of beauty, creativity, and cultural impact that Black hair cultivates.

Steve Monitar’s, “Hopscotch, Kriss Kross, Double Dutch The Gunshots”– a jumbo-sized children’s hair accessory made out of playground balls and double Dutch ropes–and Quinn Alexandria Hunter’s “32 hours of negotiation between the world and me” are crafted with artificial hair and cotton. The beautiful photography of Black hair, hair care products and Black hair care spaces exemplify the dynamism of Black hair. Photographers include Dom Mcduffle, Mathias Rushen, Kenyatta Crisp, Nakeya Brown, Brianna Sims, Nick Drain, Mia Marshall, and Jordan Coyne.

“Hopscotch, Kriss Kross, Double Dutch The Gunshots” by Steve Monitar

Not only can Black hair be used as physical art itself, but the image of it, and the styles worn to celebrate it, are worthy of creative and anthropological representation.

The curator, Tara Fay Coleman, wrote an essay for the program that touches on the anthropological implications of Black hair. She writes, “Through photography, sculpture and mixed media works, these artists demonstrate how hair is used as a medium to articulate creativity across the diaspora by highlighting the natural hair movement, ritual and intimacy, sacred spaces, intergenerational connectedness, Afrofuturism, and history.” 

This exhibit is a museum that captures the expansions of Black hair and culture. The intimate spaces that are depicted are not only in Black hair care spaces but also within the body itself.  Jordan Coyne’s black and white photos “Untitled (Javier in profile)”, is an intimate and personal look at hair in relation to Black people on a more individualist level. Kenyatta Crisp’s “Tradition: Into Womanhood” is another intimate look at the individual relationships that Black people have with their hair; it also dives into tradition, community, and intergenerational relationships by showing the progression of the individual relationship one has with their hair.

“I Can Do All Things” Artist: Sharrell Rushin

A great highlight of this exhibit is the homage to the actual hair care leaders in our communities. Tamiah Bridgett, Pittsburgh native and founder of “It’s a Natural Thang” has been a leader and innovator in the local Pittsburgh natural hair community for over 10 years now. The photo reel of her community work is an excellent reminder of the present and moving pieces that are working to educate, expand, and preserve the authenticity of Black hair spaces.

Bridgett’s work set us in the present, and Evangeline Mensah-Agyekum’s “Extension of Us” takes a more futuristic approach to the concept that our hair is an extension of our individual and collective creative expression. The piece is made up of braiding hair, sensor and sound detection, a circuit board, and other miscellaneous tools that create an input and output type of communication when guests interact with the hair. The braids can be used to communicate between 2 people which takes the expression of Black hair into the lane of technology and Afrofuturism.

The sketched and painted visual art, much like the photography, are very intimate and subtle but have so many cultural implications based around them.  Like Ayanna Nayo’s painting of a blue barrette titled “Secure” or Sharell Rushin’s painting of a woman doing a twist-out titled, “I can do all things via YouTube Tutorial.” Nayo’s piece captures the past and depicts the innocence of childhood, while Rushin’s piece brings us back to the present and makes a note on how technology, media, and Black hair are connected even now.

All of the art in this show told its own story individually, but Coleman’s curation pieced together a larger narrative based in tradition, culture, relationships, and technology that every piece contributes to. Exhibits like this are important because it is important for Black people to have space to look at Black culture from not only a celebratory lens, but an anthropological lens as well. “Roots Run Deep: A Contemporary Survey of African American Hair Culture” is up until March 6th and is definitely worth the visit, all masked-up of course.

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