Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Black British Experience, at the V and A

From Series Black Beauty Pageants, by Raphael Albert, 1960-79

Hairstyles of Nigerian women, by JD Okhai Ojeikere

Diary of a Victorian Dandy, by Yinka Shonibare, 1998

Westbourne Park Tube Station, Charlie Philips, 1967
Call me stupid, but it took a passionate discussion of the relevance and place of hair and hairstyles as cultural markers from my black students, to bring it home to me just how complicated African hairstyles are. Actually, I still don't completely get it. But my lovely students explained to me and an open-mouthed, very diverse classroom, that if they let their hair grow out, it would simply grow out and up. That it takes taming, straightening, weaves, braiding, hair extensions, and many, many hours to create the beautiful, complex confections that they wear to class. It reminded me, too, of how normative ideals of white beauty continue to impact people of non-white heritage - the hair straightening, the face bleaching, the tucking in, epilating, waxing, narrowing, tweezing, anorexia, liposuctioning, lip-pulling in, that happen behind the scenes to conform to mainstream, capitalism-prescribed aesthetic and performative norms.

The Black British Experience exhibition at the V and A brings home the exceptional, yet completely everyday, place of black beauty and experience in Britain. A history that is often missed, misplaced, displaced, ignored, misunderstood, or simply turned a blind eye to in British life. 

No comments:

Post a Comment