It affects our lives, our looks and how we think others see us. We have days dictated by it. We spend millions of dollars annually on products and stylists to help us manage it—coloring, shaping, battling, growing, thickening or adding extensions to coax it into a worthy face frame. Obviously, our hair means a lot to us.
This summer, the nationally traveling exhibit Hair Stories, showing at the 40 Acres Art Gallery, at 35th Street and Broadway, and the Crocker Art Museum, at 216 O Street, looks at the significance of hair in African-American culture. Opening Saturday and running through September 11, Hair Stories was born out of “hair parties” from around the country, where many shared memories covered myriad emotions—all somehow hair-related.
Sponsored by the Scottsdale (Arizona) Center for the Arts, which commissioned the New York dance troupe Urban Bush Women to create a full-length performance about black women and hair, the project has proven there’s a lot more to hair care than mere vanity.
In the source stories, political and social issues spanning continents and centuries came to the fore. From the Afro to cornrows, dreadlocks, nappy hair and chemically straightened coifs, the exhibit offers artwork in a variety of media by nationally renowned artists. Gordon Parks’ 1970 photo of “Eldridge Cleaver and Wife, Kathleen, with Portrait of Huey Newton” reveals a stunningly beautiful woman, crowned with a full voluminous Afro, in a poignant reflection of black militancy. Mark Bradford’s 2000 latex paint-and-perm endpapers painting addresses another chemical hair process in the name of control. Alison Saar’s “Nappy Red Head” of paint and found objects offers hair teeming with life.
The bulk of the work is displayed at 40 Acres, while the Crocker offers two pieces: oversized black hair picks standing upright in a power circle, and a roomful of synthetic extensions—straight, corkscrew and springy, collectively a curtain of hair. For more information, call (916) 456-5080 or (916) 264-5423.