Artist Statement

“I am often struck by the points of shared experience between black women when it comes to our hair, despite the fact that we might be continents apart.” [1]

As a Senegalese woman who has never resided in my home country and lived in both Europe and Africa, my practice consolidates feeling disjointed from my culture. My work creates a space for different aspects of my heritage within a European context. Working in the mediums of film, sculptural installation, sound and watercolour, my practice examines my cultural identity. Through my works, I reflect on how my hair has changed over the years, from being relaxed (chemically straightened), to my natural hair, to my braids, and the influence that moving between Europe and Africa has had on my relationship with my hair.

I was driven to create personal work after visiting Lina Iris Victor’s exhibition, Some Are Born To Endless Night —Dark Matter at Autograph. During a political printing workshop, I felt prompted to create work about black hair. Particularly due to Emory Douglas’ prints, where the afro was an important visual signifier of the Black Panther movement. Whilst I considered hair an important aspect of my culture and identity, I’d never delved that deeply into its political significance. Hair (Unravelling) is a multimedia installation, my first reflective piece on the development of my relationship with my hair. The film portrays the variety of media I have been exposed to which contributed to significant decisions and personal perceptions towards my hair. The prints are representative of the politics of natural hair, particularly in a European context where the political connotations become inherent. In contrast, the film is installed in a domestic and intimate space where hair is an everyday part of someone’s life and is not necessarily a political statement. During the exhibition, I faced difficulties with the installation when the audience unexpectedly interacted with personal objects intended for display purposes only. I questioned whether giving this power to the audience exoticized African hair if it ultimately distracted from the film.

Confession Salon/Bedroom Confession is a diptych film. Part 1 features a time-lapse of my hair being braided in a salon in Senegal, where the large poster of a white woman is evidence of the Eurocentric beauty ideals prevalent in postcolonial Senegalese society. Part 2 is a time-lapse of me undoing my braids in my bedroom in England. In both films, personal reflective dialogue and quotations from Kobena Mercer’s essay Black Hair/Style Politics and Emma Dabiri’s Don’t Touch My Hair are interlaced. Creating this work made me question their intended audience. Do they serve as an explanation for a white audience? Or a reflection of conversations between black women? Whilst I struggled with this, I feel that the pieces were a genuine reflection of my personal process of uncovering the information and knowledge for the development of my hair care.

Reading Don’t Touch My Hair brought forward the shared experience I have with other black women through hair. From this, I created Strategic Hairstyles, a personalised recreation of iconic posters in black hair salons. Informed by Ellen Gallagher’s DeLuxe, I was fascinated by a representation of an ‘everyday’ object, magazines at black hair salons, within an art gallery. I based this piece on these posters, due to their unique artistic quality alongside their utility. The Watercolour Portraits used in the poster stemmed from Chris Ofili’s Untitled (1998) watercolour series, which celebrates the diversity of black women and their afro hairstyles. Whilst Chris Ofili’s pieces only represent afro hairstyles, I aimed to illustrate the versatility of black hairstyling, such as weaves, wigs, braids etc. By having portraits of the same people with different hairstyles, I showcase that there’s more to black women’s identity than natural hair. These portraits present an appreciation for the people in my life that create a community through communication and the shared experience in our black identity and relationship with hair. Our Hair, vocalizes the sense of community with the five women whose portraits were painted. These were recorded remotely, in three different countries. In these stories there are undeniable points of connection between these black women, despite the fact that some had never met.

It’s Not Just Hair (working title) incorporates selected works from this exploration. This piece, which began as a way to reflect on my own personal relationship with my hair, has become a celebration of the bond between black women through their shared experience.

[1] Emma Dabiri, Don’t Touch My Hair, (London: Allen Lane, 2019), p. 23