Taxonomy of Black Hair

The Taxonomy of Black Hair graphically tracks Black hair from its geographic origins in which it evolved to protect the scalp from the intense heat of the sun through its dissemination throughout the world in the wake of slavery. The unique materiality of Black hair allowed it to be sculpted into a myriad of forms. Overtime, elaborate practices of hair care developed, including the integration of fractals used in African design practices from textiles to the layout of villages.

Then the African slave trade began and Africans from different tribes and regions of the continent were collapsed into a single unified people defined primarily, not by the color of their skin, by the material properties of their hair. Taken out of context, natural Black hair was perceived as an “oddity” to be managed.

During Apartheid in South Africa, the “pencil test” was one of the means to determine if one was to be labeled “Colored” or “Black.” If a pencil stayed in place when inserted into a mixed-race person’s hair, the individual was deemed to be Black and denied the rights/privileges of the higher caste – the “Colored.”

Seeking acceptance in the work place, Black women, across the western world began to straighten their hair in order to gain acceptance. As of now the Crown Act1, which protects Black women who wear their natural hair from discrimination in the workplace, has only been passed in only ten states.

Exploring the Coiled Field

The circular field of coiled copper tubes simultaneously stands in for the collective crown of the African community and for the African body fractured by the violence of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Cuts across thetable recreate slave trade routes and fragment the African body. The ground is destabilized by the cuts and require supplementary support along the fissures to support the ground.

The free-standing fragments stand in for the African diaspora shipped across the Atlantic and into slavery. Displaced and dislocated, the fragments are tenuously balanced as they find themselves in an existential wilderness, the fragments appear unhomely and strange.

The coils as crown, however, remain proud, resilient, and joyful even as they continue their ongoing journey to freedom.

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