“TEXTURES” of “The New Black Vanguard”: A Glimpse into the Intersection of Artists Musing on Black Hair | by Cleveland Museum of Art | CMA Thinker | Sep, 2022

“TEXTURES” of “The New Black Vanguard”: A Glimpse into the Intersection of Artists Musing on Black Hair | by Cleveland Museum of Art | CMA Thinker | Sep, 2022

By Dr. Tameka Ellington, Speaker, Author, and Cocurator of “TEXTURES: the historical past and art of Black hair”

People of African descent have hair that is like no other race of folks. It is the number just one racial identifier, pores and skin tone becoming the 2nd. Afro or Black hair grows out of the head like a halo and can be molded, braided, twisted, and wrapped into numerous shapes these types of as all those of the West African Fulani tribe or the Mangbetu tribe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The textural difference of Black hair has been negatively othered as a end result of colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade.

Inspite of additional than 400 yrs of struggling by way of racial and hair discrimination and the have to have to assimilate to society’s dominant magnificence strategies, which demanded that Black individuals straighten their hair, lots of Black individuals have found methods to really like on their own and their hair. In the course of the 1960s and 1970s’ Black Is Gorgeous motion, natural hair was styled in means that evoked the notice of fashion and popular tradition, top to hairstyle appropriation among the non-Blacks, this sort of as singer Barbara Streisand and actress Bo Derek. However, Black hair discrimination persisted. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was no lengthier fashionable to use organic Black hair styles, and they quickly pale away, until their reemergence in the 2000s. Nowadays, Black hair is this occasionally-in and other-situations-out stylish icon that can be witnessed in city streets across the world. Thanks to the acceptance of street dress in, superior trend has develop into available to inadequate Blacks. Thus, hairstyles have proceeded to turn out to be more artistic with the essence of a blend among present day and conventional aptitude.

In the Kent State College exhibition that I cocurated with Dr. Joseph Underwood entitled TEXTURES: the historical past and art of Black hair, traditional styling tactics are evident in the artifacts, as effectively as present day strategies of hairstyling. West African threading, for example, is attained by sectioning the hair into little or large bins, implementing oil and/or pomade, then wrapping each and every box section with thin wire making a very long department-like item pointing out the head that can be manipulated into any shape the wearer dreams. As highlighted in TEXTURES, Joseph Eze’s Stella Pomade is a wonderful illustration of traditional assembly present day style and design in the image portraying vintage Nigerian hair threading paired with a modern Louis Vuitton blazer and ascot. This hairstyle, courting again hundreds of years, was just about misplaced. But it has been revived, thanks to creatives these kinds of as The New Black Vanguards Jamal Nxedlana and his manner-ahead piece entitled Johannesburg, wherever the product is rocking a environmentally friendly-threaded hairstyle arranged into wild spirals!

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

Braided hairstyles have a long heritage in the Black tradition. In accordance to legend, the initially braids were being completed on the head of the goddess Isis as she mourned at the well owing to the loss of her partner. Nearby maidens observed that she was grieving and arrived to consolation her, and in undertaking 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 historical Nok artifacts depicting males carrying the common hairstyle. Braided from the Roots by Lebohang Motaung, showcased in TEXTURES, attributes an incredible 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 form, really reminiscent of regular Nigerian hairstyles. Shani Crowe, celebrity braiding artist, was also influenced by this condition in her get the job done entitled Shakere, which presents a cowrie-shelled cone affixed on prime of the head of a attractive Black female. The New Black Vanguard’s Sarah, Lagos, Nigeria by Namsa Leuba depicts a lady with trendy yellow-and-black cornrowed hair. These items are wonderful illustrations of how fashionable vogue and regular components these as braids and Ankara materials become amalgamated to develop a one of a kind ensemble of colour, form, and line.

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

Colour, form, and line are integral elements to all great style and design, together with the structure of hair ornaments. For centuries, Black hair has been adorned with gold, silver, and other trinkets this sort of as beads and cowrie shells to create hairstyles that have been a representation of status, temperament, and flair. I recall getting a tiny girl and my mom styling my hair in smaller ponytails all in excess of my head. At the close of each individual ponytail, she affixed a plastic adornment — a barrette. These barrettes were being produced by way of a molded die cut into the shape of flowers, bows, birds, and other animals. I remember swinging my head aspect to side just so that I could come to feel the barrettes graze from my shoulders. Althea Murphy-Price’s barrettes selection 2, shown in the TEXTURES exhibition, brings a sense of nostalgia that only tiny girls are privileged to. The pinks, blues, oranges, and sea greens carry back again recollections 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 minor kids and gives it a advanced, superior-fashion edge.

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

Performs by Quil Lemons and Devan Shimoyama depict a element of Black culture that is normally not discussed. Black queerness proceeds to build proverbial black sheep all over communities throughout the planet. The audacious new music of Lil Nas X assists to deliver ahead a subject that proceeds to be swept less than the rug and locked in the closet. New York, from Glitter Boy, a pictures sequence by The New Black Vanguard’s Lemons, and Shimoyama’s Elijah, in TEXTURES, each use sparkle and hues of pink as a way to depict the essence of femininity in queer male figures. Shimoyama’s sequence called Crybaby depicts guys and boys in a barbershop embellished with crystal teardrops symbolizing the pain that is often felt by queer males going into hypermasculine barbershop spaces. While a barbershop is an ecosystem where by most heterosexual Black adult men commune and join with their neighborhood, queer males have an obverse experience. Both of those artists’ operates question society’s notion of what Black masculinity is intended to be.

New York, 2017. Quil Lemons (American, b. 1997). Impression 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 art kind, an artwork sort that has been at the same time celebrated and despised. It continues to be the object of a lot of artists’ inspiration simply because of its connection to cultural wrestle and self-acceptance, manner, and controversy. Black hair will remain the muse of potential artists to appear. A number of many years from now, you will see that my prophesy was right. Black hair hardly ever dies!