Currently my day job is in a inner city high school. I really love it because the kids are so complex. I enjoy learning all about the new things in which they are interested. It is interesting to see how they strive to be different from one another and how they are so much alike. For example, there is one student who was wearing her hair wild and curly, and clearly, it was out of her control. More recently, she has had it straightened so it appears manageable. Another has short permed hair and a young woman with natural twists. These girls are the exception to the rule, mostly there are the braided hair girls whose hair has been woven into multiple layers of densely braided or loose flowing synthetic and often colorful (blue, deep red, purple, gray) hair. The hairstyles the female students choose reflect the persona they wish to portray as we all do. There are braids, micro and macro, Senegalese twists and dreaded locks. This is a part of the complicated evolving concept of beauty in the African American culture. For humans hair is about identity. In the black community it is the essence of beauty, it signifies lineage, health and denotes wealth.
Young girls love these “weaves” natural or synthetic; it looks like real hair even as it has been sewn into the natural hair. It is an achievement and a visual display to have what my mom called “blow hair”. The idea that with a simple hairstyle change one can give a person a completely new persona, which in itself is intriguing in a desire to record the complexity of this hair phenomenon I began by forging a connection between my interests in fiber and printmaking and considered visually combining the two. I wanted to come up with an ideal fine art concept that described this imagery of black hair.
I needed a method to develop work in the format of printmaking. Therefore, I searched out fellow printer who gave me the first inroad by recommending lithography. In order to learn more about the process I needed additional help. I sought out another printer who shared a video about the process, written documentation and showed me his process. I was clearly on my way. Now by using a lithographic method I am able to develop images of hair with the final plan to print onto the paper for the dresses.
With a concept firmly in hand and a visual and mental understanding of the methodology, maneuvering the process was now merely physical. I quickly purchased my materials. The process required using a plastic plate called a Pronto Plate, the salesperson explained that the process was a difficult one in the onset but immensely rewarding in the outcome, this would prove to help me not give up. True, the initial works were a mess; however, I could see the evidence of a positive outcome. In addition, the final picture was so embedded in my psyche there was no turning back.
Nineteenth century photography has always been intriguing to me and in my work; I have often tried to capture elements of the photographic in the pieces. This work is no different, in the lithographic process there is a contrast embedded in the shadow and highlight of the prints, which I am attempting to enhance because it reflects the timelessness of the historical importance of hair. The initial works were a one-strand abstraction. Finding a lock of hair lying in the street is disturbing but making it into a work of art changes the encounter. My goal was to make them fluid and gestural. I played with the curvilinear shapes leading in and out of the picture plane the next set of images delved into the density of hair.
With my own hair, I was embarking on a natural hair regiment using ancient oils and mixtures. I am wearing my hair in a single protective bun, a plait curled under on the top of my head. This lead me to purchase a single synthetic plait. I recall my daughter at six, when I called her a princess she corrected me with the fact she wasn't a princess because in her words,” Have you ever seen a princess with a single plait in the back of her hair?” This work reminds me of raising girls and dealing with thick dense hair on weekday mornings, or, washes days of curly, nappy tangled hair and the groans, moans, joy and tears accompanying them. Thank God for grown children and an empty nest.
The next works dealt with the cascading hair and the density of layered braids. It was difficult to ink these works and I am still working to make these clean prints. I plan to pay with color and a variety of textures in future pieces. Right now, the pieces are strong and the concept clear. Future works will inevitably encompass the variety of character I intend to display.
In the next post, I will share the research I am doing into the color indigo as a backdrop to the hair works.