I am very excited. I spent that last several weeks giving my website a facelift. It looks completely different and has a lot of new work. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out! I just published two new pieces of work, Weave of Support and Felicia with the Good Hair. I write this post to talk more about them in greater detail as they coexist and their conceptual framework is connected. Both pieces are in response to recent discussion on cultural appropriation specifically surrounding hairstyles within black communities.
A recent incident that really got to me was Marc Jacobs' show at New York Fashion Week. All of his models, most of them white, sported bright faux dreadlocks on the runway. The Internet was in an uproar. Some on the offense, some otherwise. There was even pre-show ANTICIPATION that people were going to be upset. So, then why did it happen? Hmm. Some say privilege, some say ignorance. (Apparently this isn't Marc's first run-in with the black hair community.) Others argue he had creative right to do it. I get it, it's complicated, and I don't think it's simple to break down. However, no matter how you frame it, black hair is political and there is still much to be acknowledged about black identity and its relationship to hair. I do believe that creative expression in 2016 should be more liberated than it is. However, Marc's response is just one example of many that serves as an indication that we are simply not there yet. Check it out:
" - funny how you don't criticize women of color for straightening their hair...I don't see color or race - I see people."
— SAFashionBook (@SAFashionBook) September 16, 2016
You’re right Marc, you don’t see it. I think you're missing the point. Appreciation and inspiration is a beautiful thing. I think we all get that. However, women of color are not criticized when they straighten their hair, wear weaves or wigs, because they are criticized when they don't. Dreadlocks and Bantu Knots could cost them a job. They are deemed unprofessional, unkempt, dirty, and unattractive. Until young girls don't have to protest just to wear their natural hairstyles to school, it is appropriation. Until the women that serve our country and fight our wars can wear braids, locks, twists, Afros, curls and baby hairs without worry, it is appropriation. Until those industries that take from the oppressed begin to give credit, royalties, and opportunity, it is appropriation. It is political. It is not okay. No matter how complex it all may seem, black hair is political. That is a very real and simple truth. Credit and advocacy can go along way, Marc.
Ahem...now to the artwork.
Weave of Support, is bra woven out of synthetic braiding hair. Synthetic hairstyles are worn in an attempt to assimilate, meet corporate dress codes, and in response to media that do not represent black women and their sexuality in a positive and accurate light. The bra, has long time been recognized as a symbol of oppression, an object of sexualization. Women are expected to wear bras while they also serve the male gaze. I wear this hairy undergarment as a visual parallel between the well-known bra and the mysterious weave and what the weave represents to black women, their identity, sexuality, and social standing.
On May 13, 2016 black pop artist Beyoncé published the single Sorry. It was released it on her full-length visual album Lemonade. The entire album caused a stir among fans and critiques in that it confronts the artist’s alleged cheating partner. Sorry’s lyrics no doubt caused the most buzz. They provide a clue to the identity of the supposed mistress, directly referred to as Becky. Becky, a traditionally white name has several other slang definitions. More importantly, Becky is said to have "good hair." Good hair is hair that is soft, manageable, easy to maintain, sexy and desirable. White, if you will.
Felicia with the Good Hair, isa photograph that is in response to the underlying issues of rejection, sexuality, and female acceptance in black communities. Especially in regards to hair, skin color and relationships.
When Beyoncé calls out Becky in her music video, she is in a similar pose as I am seen here. My hair, in African Bantu Knots, is a style that is believed to have likely been worn by most slaves when they first arrived to America.
Felicia with the Good Hair
Taking it one step further. The name Felicia, often used with the comical and dismissive phrase “Bye, Felicia”, and was made famous by the film Friday. Felicia then becomes an unwanted and needy woman. In this context, it is read as a black name. It is also my middle name.
The photograph is no doubt sexualized. My aim is to draw attention to the fact that natural hair is seen as the less attractive, less sexualized, and less desired. It is not good hair. In the same breath, the piece reclaims ownership of the black female body, natural hair, black history and associations of black female identity by making it good and impossible to ignore.
At the end of the day, both pieces are intended to serve as conversation starters. It is not going to do any community any good to lash out aggressively. What we all need is healthy conversation and exchange of experiences, information and ideas, even if it's uncomfortable. What are your thoughts on all this? I'd love to hear from you. Start a conversation in the comments below and be sure to visit my website.