The latest virtual art showcase to debut transforms the textured and tactile world of Black hair and presents the crimped, curled, and braided creations of acclaimed hairstylist Jawara in a digital exhibition hosted by Art Partner. Through Coarse: The Edges of Black Ingenuity (a title that cleverly plays on hair terminology), the hairstylist hopes to enlighten people to the wonders of Black hair, educate about the culture surrounding it, and explore the medium as an art form.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Brooklyn, Jawara has always seen the beauty in Black hair. He's worked with celebrities including Solange, Cardi B, and, most recently, Naomi Campbell, and is a frequent runway collaborator for Off-White, Area, Alexander Wang, and other fashion houses. In his editorial work, hair often takes on unexpected forms, slicked and sculpted or braided and twisted into gravity-defying styles.
“[Black] hair should be looked at and adored in awe, because there's so many intricate ways and styles and tools that are used,” Jawara tells L’OFFICIEL. “It should be honored instead of discriminated against…This [show] is like a transgression against all of that.”
With images pulled from the hairstylist’s portfolio from the past few years and some created within the past few months specifically for the exhibition, the show’s curation includes work that was fashioned and captured across the globe. According to Jawara, Jamaica, Brazil, France, London, and New York City are just some of the locales that are reflected in the exhibition–“wherever I shot people of the African diaspora and the hairstyle spoke to me,” he says. Photography by Tyler Mitchell, Nadine Ijewere, and more of Jawara’s creative collaborators comprise the showcase.
In many ways, the exhibition is a continuation of the conversation he began with his and Ijewere’s Tallawah exhibition at London’s Cob Gallery, which focused on Jamaican hair and identity and opened in January, shortly before the world went on lockdown. (Several images from Tallawah are also featured in the new exhibition.) In the time since then, the hair artist has had time to reflect on his craft and its storytelling abilities.
“My outlook has always been consistent when it comes to Black hair culture,” Jawara says. “I’ve always marveled at what people are able to do and express [with] hair. But what happened during quarantine was that I sat back and realized that there's still a lot of people that don't view it this way. I would love to be able to campaign Black culture to make it be appreciated a bit more as opposed to appropriated.”
To educate viewers on the significance of hair culture to people of color, Jawara narrates an audio tour of the exhibition, delving into the stories behind select pieces. While many of the looks on display reflect the more avant-garde side to his work, they also speak to the performative nature of Black hair.
"Sometimes hair is the one way you can show what you love about life, what you love about yourself, who you are," Jawara says. "It's not just getting your hair done to Black people. It's a whole ritual. It's community. People can talk through hair sometimes–express how they're feeling, what they're going through. I wanted to tap into that and show that it's not just hair with us. Sometimes our whole life is based around our hair."
Coarse: The Edges of Black Ingenuity is now on view online through December 2020.