The Politics of African Hair

When researcher April Martin Chartrand was an undergraduate at San Francisco State, a professor gave her an unusual assignment: He wanted her to write about her hair. “I was running around with braids in my hair and saying there was nothing political about it,” Chartrand remembers. “I was just so naïve.”

A Sacred Beautiful – a Natural Heritage Hair

The professor, Raye Richardson, founder of the legendary Marcus Books in the Fillmore, challenged Chartrand to learn more about the history surrounding black hair, from the Tignon Law of 1786—when a Louisiana governor mandated that black women cover their hair in public—to present-day discrimination against job applicants and employees for wearing braids, dreadlocks, or natural styles.

Chartrand spent the next 20 years researching, writing about, and making art that addresses issues facing people of the African diaspora—and hair remained a chief focus. Now she’s the curator of A Sacred Beautiful, an exhibition opening on August 30 at the offices of the S.F. Human Rights Commission in which artists, including photographer Nye’ Lyn Tho, re­imagine iconic natural styles. Nye’ Lyn Tho’s photo-illustrations feature heads regally resplendent with flowers and greens. “Our crowns are our hair,” Tho says. “In a lot of cultures, hair is a representation of who you are.”

A Sacred Beautiful

The three principal artists of “The Black Woman Is God” exhibition presents ‘A Sacred Beautiful – a Natural Heritage Hair: An African Diasporan Photo Exposé’ – KaliMa Amilak, Nye’ Lyn Tho and Egyptsia Mcgillvery – establish themselves as cultural zeitgeist spirits by using the novel visual language of the natural hair movement cultural iconoclasts.

According to April Martin Chartrand, M.S., curator and researcher for this exhibition, these creative hair iconoclasts create paradigm shifts in consciousness, embody keen sensibilities and usher in the acceptability of presenting diverse ways of being, through their prolific visual aesthetic lens.

Creating exquisite Diasporan textural imagery, AmiLak and Tho, aspirational photographers, and Mcgillvery, Natural Hair Movement designer, embody Ma’atian cultural consciousness and are paradigm shape-shifters. In essence, these new-day shape-shifters embrace visionary sensibilities and illuminate the acceptability of presenting diverse ways of existing in the world.

Curator Chartrand posits that “A Sacred Beautiful” exhibition was inspired by curatorial research of the “reclamation of our hair-itage,” the global African Diasporan Natural Hair Movement, birthed in the 20th century, and to bring attention to the dreadful Louisianan 1786 Tignon Law.

Passed in Spanish colonial Louisiana in 1786, the tignon laws prohibited Black women from showing their hair. Because White men were attracted to Black women, who adorned their hair with jewels and beads, Black women, whether enslaved or free, were ordered to wrap their hair to conceal it, so they used bright colored scarves, jewels and ribbons and creative wrapping techniques to make their tignons a fashion statement.

Source: Modern Luxury

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