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‘Hair Story’ Exhibit Explores How Black Hair Is More Than Mere Follicles 14
Photo of artist LaShonda Cooks standing in front of her installation 'Bread and Butter'

LaShonda Cooks, Visual Artist. Photo: LMG

The topic of hair has interested artist LaShonda Cooks for a long time, but it was the poem Don’t Touch My Hair by Rage Almighty that sparked inspiration.

There is a crescent continent from my spine to the top of my scalp
So I wear my hair like a sycamore fig, like the banks of the middle passage
And I don’t forget where I came from
And I don’t forget where I going
And I don’t ever forget the women
Who twist
Who cut
Who primp
Who weave
The women who sleep uncomfortably
And sit in the same spot for hours
Just to get their hair right for nobody else but themselves

Hair Story: Myths, Magic and Methods of Black Hair, through Feb. 13, 3536 Grand Avenue, Fair Park, Dallas, TX 75210, Details

The powerful words from the now deceased poet gave Cooks the idea for her exhibit Hair Story: Myths, Magic and Methods of Black Hair. The show explores the economic, political, and spiritual aspects of hair, but it also shines a spotlight on the women behind hair and all that goes into it. Women like Cooks’ grandmother who was a beautician.

“She was my first beautician,” said Cooks. “I realized what that type of work does to you. It’s very manual and physical and what that does over time to your body– like she had arthritis that was pretty severe. When I was a kid, at one point, she couldn’t do my hair anymore. I’ve had about basically four beauticians over my lifetime. It’s a very powerful relationship and  I wanted to honor them as part of the exhibit.”

14 portraits of African American women doing hair. The paintings are painted on square plates.

‘Bread & Butter’ Series by LaShonda Cooks

Cooks tribute to the women and their hair process is played out in her Bread and Butter series; 37 miniature portraits painted on palm leaf plates.

“I have images of my beauticians on these tiny plates,” said Cooks. “Some of them are living, some, like my grandmother, are not, but I wanted to honor them and that kind of sparked the whole concept for my particular pieces. I also wanted to showcase the women I know locally. The different kind of diversity and the pride in hair care.”

Portrait of African woman called "serenity" by Youveline Joseph. The woman is looking down with her eyes closed. She has coils of beaded braids around her face which are made of real hair.

‘Serenity’ by Youveline Joseph

The show was made possible by a microgrant from the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture. In addition to Cooks’ work the exhibit also includes pieces from Art-Fro Kreationz, Ciara Elle Bryant, Danielle Demetria, Feniiix Raiii, Loosemedium, and Youveline Joseph.  The works range from paintings to photography to mixed media.

“There were a lot of local artists doing some really cool creations around the theme. So what I wanted to do was pull them in so you can see the subject through these different lenses. Black hair is this massive topic and me conquering it by myself seemed unreasonable,” said Cooks.

Cooks says the takeaway of the show is to celebrate black hair, whether you have black hair or not.

Portrait of African woman by Art-Fro Kreationz. She has multiple coiled braids twisted on her head.

“HairStrong” by Art-Fro Kreationz, Photo: LMG

“I think the exhibit raises the curtain a little bit for people who are outside of that community so you can see and maybe understand all of the labor, the routine, and why it’s important,” said Cooks. “But I also want the people from the community to be seen.”

Hair Story is on view Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from noon to five at the African American Museum of Dallas through Feb. 13. In addition to exhibit, there will be a drive-in short film festival December 5 from 7 to 9 p.m. featuring screenings of four films including Pick by Alicia K Harris and Wash Day by Kourtney Jackson.

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