Featured Photo: Sonya Clark (American, Born 1967), The Hair Craft Project: Hairstylists with Sonya, 2013, Eleven inkjet photographs, Eleven color photographs: Each 28”x 28”,The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, Frederick Brown Fund, Samuel Putnam Avery Fund, and Helen and Alice Colburn Fund Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
To say that the work of African American multi-media artist Sonya Clark is dynamic and powerful would be an understatement. Throughout her career, Clark’s work has often featured hair and combs in the place of more traditional fibers and art-making materials. Her exhibition, Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark, is currently on display at the Taubman Museum of Art and will remain there until May 14, 2017. It addresses the roles of hair in African American society and features site specific installations. Last month, it included a performance entitled, “Translations.” This performance featured stylist Kamala Bhagat, who reinterpreted an African hairstyle on Clark’s hair as she read poetry by Rita Dove and Nikki Giovanni. Both the performance and the exhibition explore hair as an indicator of social status, a symbol of age and authority, a statement of contemporary style, an object of beauty, and adornment.
As we all know, hair is a medium with which we express our identity. It is a political statement as much as it is a personal one—the idea that we can be ourselves while being professional, active members of a society that tells us what is in fashion or appropriate in magazines or on television.
Unfortunately, those differences are often made into something negative. A trait as innocuous as hair can be made into the thing by which we set ourselves apart—and even above—other people. Understanding the importance of a hair style to everyone’s freedom of self-expression is a key component to removing ourselves from the dehumanization that plagues media and entertainment. It is the same dehumanization, Clark reminds us, that has made it easier to subjugate groups of people throughout history.
“Angela Davis was wearing a huge Afro during the black power movement,” says Clark. “It became a symbol of embracing identity. The idea of celebrating the kink, the curl, and the twist is something that is celebrating a rich history and legacy.”
In addition to hair, Clark integrates plastic pocket combs into her work. She describes them as objects that are invested with a lot of cultural identity.
“The unbreakable comb is designed that way to win the battle against knotted hair. It is pocket-sized to be carried with you all the time,” explains Clark. “A tool like a comb has to do with certain groups of people that grow hair in a certain way. They tell us something about our economic structure. Being groomed means something.”
Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark will be on display until May 14, 2017. It is an exhibition rich with history that you do not want to miss! For more of Sonya’s work, visit www.sonyaclark.com.