July 9 – September 11, 2005
This summer, the Crocker Art Museum joins the 40 Acres Art Gallery in probing the cultural significance of African American hair through the nationally traveling exhibition, HairStories. Organized by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by Kim Curry-Evans, director of the 40 Acres Art Gallery, this special and final presentation of HairStories showcases the voices of contemporary African American artists and the impact of black hair in American culture-the subject of generations of artists, from James VanDerZee to Lorna Simpson. The exhibition will be shared by both institutions and displayed at the Crocker and at 40 Acres.
References to black hair abound in history, music, literature, poetry, advertisements and commercials. Look no further than the notoriety of former NBA star Dennis Rodman, to the box-office hit Barbershop (2002) and the recent release of Queen Latifah's movie Beauty Shop to see the broad appeal and cross-cultural echoes of a subject that symbolizes far more than fashion. Visual artists have created a large body of work referencing hair, exploring identity and also serving to underscore the historical and social relevance of the subject.
Organized around four primary themes, many works included in HairStories speak to the syndrome of "good hair/bad hair;" the importance of the barbershop and the beauty salon as communal gathering places; the social and political symbolism of black hair; and hairstyles as an expression of individuality. What is this relevance? Why are there so many stories to tell? Why do African Americans process their hair? What exactly does "good hair" or "bad hair" mean?
Many answers are rooted in Africa as well as in America's colonial past. In Africa, coiffure established personal identity and tribal affiliation. European slave traders realized early on the efficiency of subduing and humiliating their captives by shaving heads. In America, following the Civil War, the immense complexity of social attitudes toward African Americans resulted in cultural assimilation based upon "blending in," and straightening naturally tight hair became a way of managing hair while also attaining a preferred look. With the Civil Rights Movement, the styling of black hair, especially the Afro, became politically charged. The importance of appearance and its role in shaping a personal sense of self from an early age remains clear today.
Artists included in the display at the Crocker Art Museum include Mark S. Bradford, Cynthia Wiggins, Kojo Griffin, Cathleen Lewis, Nadine Robinson, Gordon Parks, Beverly McIver, and Lorna Simpson. 40 Acres Art Gallery features works by artists such as Radcliffe Bailey, Alison Saar, Lorna Simpson, James VanDerZee, Dawoud Bey, Milton Bowens, Sonya Clark, Kehinde Wiley and Deborah Willis. In conjunction with this special exhibition, the 40 Acres Art Gallery and the Crocker are also offering a diversity of programs, including a youth art exhibit at both venues, an artist discussion, a hair workshop and fashion show, a film series and a performance by New York's Urban Bush Women, the dance troupe that inspired the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Kim Curry-Evans to bring the story of black hair in the visual arts to a wider audience. We encourage members to experience the full impact of the exhibition created by this unique presentation.