My Hair, My Soul, My Freedom

Gerard Ortiz

Gallery FIFTY A person provides ‘My Hair, My Soul, My Freedom’ an exhibition celebrating the variety, artistry and attractiveness of black women’s hair via the get the job done of two incredibly unique artists. From cornrows, to braids, locks, weaves, all-natural or straightened hair the varied array of black hairstyles (or ‘crowns’, as they are referred to as in Afro-American slang) has an historic, social and spiritual that means, and performs an significant job for the identity of black girls in today’s modern society. 

Sandro Miller (US, 1958) is a single of the world’s most celebrated ad photographers. For his own projects he focuses mostly on portraiture with a humanistic solution, addressing social issues throughout the globe. Encouraged by the ordeals of his spouse Claude-Aline Nazaire – who has ancestral roots in Haïti, the Dominican Republic and The us – Miller explored the way in which black girls specific their identity, pleasure and heritage via their hairdos. For the ensuing series ‘CROWNS: My Hair, My Soul, My Freedom’ (2016-2019), the artist requested each and every collaborating women of all ages – first in Chicago, and starting from 2019 also in Johannesburg and Dakar – to share her particular ‘hair story’ with him. Operating with a hair stylist and make-up artist, a model of hair was then attained that the sitter has worn, or would be eager to wear out into the earth right now. Each individual woman’s skin was depicted with the very same black tone, that serves as an equalizer that turned the sculptural hairdos into the focal place. The ladies had been positioned in entrance of a deep black or brightly patterned fabric, the latter influenced by and which include quite a few African prints. The backgrounds ended up selected dependent on the individuality of the versions and the styles and colors in their hair. The contrast between the deep pores and skin tone and the lively colours at the back again, lends the images fantastic vibrancy and dimensionality.

Next to honoring black hair, beauty and satisfaction, this sequence urges the viewer to reflect on the simple fact that black girls in the US have not generally had the flexibility to dress in their hair the way they wished. There was the dehumanizing follow of shaving African women’s hair for the duration of slavery (as a result erasing important signifiers of tradition and identification) and a 1786 Louisiana regulation necessitating black females to deal with their hair in general public. Pursuing examples of black females whose hairstyles were being regarded as ‘inappropriate’ or ‘unprofessional’ by their college or company surroundings, by passing the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open up World for Organic Hair) Act, California not too long ago became the initially American point out to ban discrimination centered on race-based hairstyles. The particular and political value of black hair is also featured in common society. From the song ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ of American singer Solange Knowles to the bestseller ‘Americanah’ from the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (about a Nigerian feminine immigrant in the US, in which the practice of styling or relaxing hair to conform to European attractiveness criteria, is thoroughly talked about): they all testify to the complex bond a black woman has with her hair and how she can use it to reclaim power around her very own system.

The cultural and emancipatory worth of black hairdos is also mirrored in the function of Nigerian photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikere (1930-2014). Throughout his occupation as a photographer, Ojeikere used a extensive time performing for the government. It was in his capability as a member of the nationwide Arts Council that he began to emphasis on documenting Nigerian tradition. In 1968 he started off his biggest and most famed undertaking that spanned much more than 40 years the documentation of Nigerian hairstyles and head wraps. His selection of in excess of a thousand black and white negatives reveals the monumental variety and complexity of Nigerian hair society, which was shaped by historic, cultural and social influences and ranging from purely attractive to messengers of symbolic meanings, revealing social status, age, tribal and family traditions. Via his photos, Ojeikere preserved these ‘sculptures for a day’ for generations to occur, meticulously inventorying their name and that means. Up coming to its anthropological, ethnographic and documentary top quality, this overall body of work also possesses a extremely aesthetic value. The sober design and style in which he photographed his designs – recording them systematically from the rear, from time to time in profile and with a easy or lacking qualifications – focuses all interest to the sculptural high-quality of the headdresses and hairdos. Currently, Ojeikere is thought of as one particular of the most important African photographers of the 20th century, with exhibitions at among the other folks the Venice Biennale of 2013, Documenta (2017) and the Foundation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (2000), and the inclusion of his work in prominent collections these types of as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MoMA, The Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Modern.

The publication ’CROWNS: My Hair, My Soul, My Freedom’ by Sandro Miller, was recently produced by Skira, with an introduction by American actress Angela Bassett and a poem by Patricia Smith. The reserve acquired raving testimonials in Musee Journal and Oprah Journal, amongst other individuals.


 Sandro Miller x J.D. Okhai Ojeikere : My Hair, My Soul, My Freedom
Might 10th – July 9th, 2022
Zirkstraat 20,
2000 Antwerp, Belgium

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