My hair, my soul, my freedom

gallery fifty one Present My hair, my soul, my freedom ; An exhibition that celebrates the diversity, artistry, and beauty of black women’s hair through the work of very different artists. From cornrows to braids, highlights, weaves, and natural or straight hair; The diversity of black hairstyles (or “tiaras”, as they are known in African American vernacular) have historical, social, and spiritual significance, and play an important role in the identity of black women in today’s society.

Sandro Miller (USA, 1958) is one of the world’s most famous advertising photographers. For his personal projects, he mainly focuses on portraiture with a humanistic approach, addressing social issues around the world. Inspired by the experiences of his wife Claude Aline Nazir – who has ancestral roots in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and America – Miller discovered how black women express their personality, pride and heritage through their hairstyles. In the series “CROWNS: My Hair, My Soul, My Freedom” (2016-2019), the artist asked each woman to participate – first in Chicago, and from 2019 also in Johannesburg and Dakar – to share his “personal haircut”. Together with his hairstylist and make-up artist, a hairstyle that the model would have worn or would be ready to wear in today’s world was created. Each woman’s skin was depicted as the same black, which acts as an equalizer turning sculpted hairstyles into a focal point. The women were placed in front of Dark black or brightly patterned fabric, the latter inspired and included by many African prints.Backgrounds were chosen based on the models’ individuality, hair styles and colours.The contrast between the deep skin tone and vibrant colors on the back give the images plenty of vibrancy.

In addition to honoring black hair, beauty, and pride, this series invites the viewer to reflect on the fact that black women in the United States have not always had the freedom to wear their hair the way they wanted. Il y avait la pratique déshumanisante de raser les cheveux des femmes africaines pendant l’esclavage (effaçant ainsi des signifiants importants de la culture et de l’identité) et une loi de la Louisiane de 1786 obligeant les femmes noires en seuvir les public. Following the examples of black women whose hairstyles were deemed “inappropriate” or “unprofessional” in their school or work environment, by passing the CROWN (Creating a Respectable and Open World for Natural Hair) Act, California recently became the first US state to ban discrimination. Hairstyles based on ethnicity. The personal and political significance of black hair is also present in popular culture. From American singer Solange Knowles’ song “Don’t Touch My Hair” to Nigerian bestselling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “Americana” (about a Nigerian woman who immigrated to the United States, where she practices styling or straightening hair to comply with European beauty standards, discussed at length): all of them​​ They testify to the complex relationship a black woman has with her hair and how she can use it to regain control of her body.

The cultural and liberating value of black hairstyles is also reflected in the work of Nigerian photographer JD Okhai Ojeikere (1930-2014). During his career as a photographer, Ojikiri worked in the government for a long time. As a member of the National Arts Council, he began to focus on documenting Nigerian culture. In 1968 he launched his biggest and most famous project, lasting more than 40 years. Documenting Nigerian hairstyles and hats. His collection of over a thousand black and white negatives shows the enormous diversity and complexity of Nigerian poetry culture, shaped by historical, cultural and social influences and ranging from purely decorative to messengers of meaning. Symbolic, reveals marital status, age, tribal affiliation and family traditions. Through his photographs, Ojeikere preserved these “one-day sculptures” for generations to come, meticulously documenting their name and meaning. In addition to its anthropological, ethnographic and documentary quality, this collection of works also has a high aesthetic value. The sober style in which his models are depicted – systematically taping them from behind, sometimes in portrait and plain or missing background – focuses all attention on the sculptural quality of his headdresses and hairstyles. Today, Ojeikere is considered one of the most important African photographers of the twentieth century, with exhibitions including the 2013 Venice Biennale, Documenta (2017) and the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art (2000), and his work being included in major collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA and Victoria and Albert Museum Tate Modern.

Skira recently published “CROWNS: My Hair, My Soul, My Freedom” by Sandro Miller, with an introduction by American actress Angela Bassett and a poem by Patricia Smith. The book has received rave reviews in Musee and Oprah Magazine, among others.

Sandro Miller x JD Okhai Ojeikere: My Poetry, My Soul, My Freedom
May 10 – July 9 2022
fifty one
Zirkstraat 20,
2000 Antwerp, Belgium
www.gallery51.com

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