So in 2016, during the last semester of my first year masters at the #GSA_UJ, I subjectively took on the politics of hair featuring en la arquitectura. You can find the full project here on my academic blog Slim Cognito 🙂
Titled The Weighting Aisle: Dismantling Structures of Power in the Check-out Aisle, I explored myself, blackness, dreams and power. But architecture and hair? How? (they asked) Is it a hair salon? (NO!)
Black women’s hair is political.
I don’t intend to make a political statement based on
the way I wear my hair, but I do. The shear act of walking
into a room with my hair in its natural kinky state,
becomes an invitation for people to make immediate
assumptions. I can get fired, denied rights or put in
detention because of my hair.
My hair is a ‘discrimination issue’; a racial issue, a societal
issue, a historical issue, a beauty issue, a black
My study’s overarching aim is about inverting power associated to image, and in particular, hair’s contribution to image based standards. Aiming to render the powerful, powerless to the point of empathy; and the powerless, powerful to a point of freedom. A trade space. Embodying five main spatial experiences that would engage the trading of reactions as a commodity.
The project sought to speculate a space of perceived normality around black hair, in which power is taken by those with black hair through the use of key spatial experiences manifesting on the site of the check -out aisle.
I explored the trading of autonomy we as black women (and men) are subjected to in order to have access to basic living. How the pressures and prejudice dictate. How beginning with the day you are born and your aunt says “Oh! She’s got nice hair”; to your days in school, it’s all pre-cast. You are groomed at home and by media on what hair means. You go to school, and trust the school rules and teachers to remind you how to tame your hair. You ingest it all. You conform. You get to tertiary level, freedom you think? But the damage is done, the fears ingrained, you dare not step beyond the boundaries of your teachings. Work place, independence? Ha! You already know what professional hair looks like (google will tell you too); you know where to find the relaxer and how much that Peruvian weave costs. Autopilot on, you dictate yourself. your identity forged. Then you give birth, and the cycle repeats itself.
A longing for the normalisation of my hair space, was the essence of this project. Theoretically anchored in texts by passionate writers such as Teresa Guess, Cheryl Thompson, Deborah Grayson; to name but a few.
I didn’t hide.
I said what was always hushed.
I made you uncomfortable.
I used words,
Seduced through imagery.
My hair commanded.
Home, personal space.
How can architecture not have anything to do with hair??? In light of the Pretoria Girls High School protest for their blackness, their hair; the timing came forth.
When school rules tell you, black girl, that your braids need to be 2mm in diameter.
When your boss says to you, black woman, your locs are unprofessional.
When your mother asks you, black child, are you going to church with your hair like that?
When your shopping squad tells you, black fam, you need to weave that mess.
Just because it is silent, doesn’t mean the space has dissolved.
(…to be continued)