PHOTO AND STORY BY: HAL SAGA
A canvas in the corner of an art gallery depicts a young Black woman smiling. Proud of her work, artist Nzuji De Magalhães smiles right back at it.
Rich yellows and oranges adorn the background behind the woman, where she is put in the forefront. There is an emphasis on her elaborate African jewelry on her neck and ears, but the true focus is on the style of her hair – bantu knots.
The Cypress College Art Department is presenting Hairtage Continuum, an exhibit at the campus art gallery featuring Black artists’ works expressing the cultural significance of African hair against white colonial standards.
Curated by the Cypress College professor herself, De Magalhães, the gallery initially began as an online exhibit for the Spring 2021 semester.
De Magalhães conceived the idea for the exhibit shortly after George Floyd’s death in 2020. “Natural black hair reveals the root, the source of the African within, and the anti-western ‘primitive’ being,” De Magalhães said in a piece that described the beginnings of Hairtage Continuum.
She said anti-colonialism was an integral part of the show by demonstrating the various styles of Black hair without western influence. “I kind of called this process, the show, as maybe kind of like different methods; study how to decolonize something, or someone, or society.”
De Magalhães curated the exhibit closely with gallery director, Janet Owen Driggs.
“Janet thought about a vague conversation we had about how hair is a way of making us prisoners of ourselves, not accepting the texture of it.”
Driggs spoke about guest artist Kimberly Morris’s piece, White Supremacy Fears Me. White Supremacy Fears Me is created on nylon with the words aforementioned embroidered with the artist’s own hair.
“It is delicate, powerful, and clear. It challenges and points out what [the exhibit] berates,” Driggs said about the piece, which is illuminated by a single light on a white wall.
The differences in each artists’ perception of Black hair was prevalent. Phone cords mimicking curly hair sprung out of wood hung on the wall in Black Portrait #1 by Sharon Barnes, and the details of braids styled on a person’s head were drawn on paper in Embellishments (Cornrows) by Cedric Adams.
April Bey, guest artist, depicted famous Black celebrities’ variations of hair surrounded by sequins and a collage of Royal Crown Hair Dressing that doubles as a border in Earth History (Wrap Gradient).
“What happens if I don’t make my hair culturally acceptable to an Anglo Saxon European view of beauty?” Bey said about her experience as a Black artist in graduate school during the guest speaker series.
Bey’s art is based on stories her father told her growing up. Earth History (Wrap Gradient) is featured in the gallery, and has depicted the aforementioned stories and her “research on Afro Futurism […] to realism, textiles, and how that relates to Black women.”
The exhibit includes the works of De Magalhães, Cedric Adams, Sharon Barnes, April Bey, janet e. dandridge, Regina Herod, and Kimberly Morris, all of whom will be speaking about their pieces on specific days.
“The whole show, it was based on various voices coming forward. Not just mine,” De Magalhães said. She said that the artists and Cypress College’s Legacy Program were a large part of making the exhibit possible.
“What I hope is that this institution, our school, will be willing and open to embrace these kinds of engagements. I hope that this is not going to be the last time. We are an institution of learning, and we do have to accept what comes, even if you don’t like it.”
|Janet Dandridge||Wednesday, Oct. 19||1:00 – 2:00 p.m.|
|Regina Herod||Wednesday, Oct. 26||7:00 – 8:00 p.m.|
|Kimberley Morris||Wednesday Nov. 2||6:30 – 7:30 p.m.|
|Sharon Barne||Monday, Nov. 7||6:30 – 7:30 p.m.|