Hair In African Art And Culture

October 4 - December 31, 2000
Contact: Jill Osaka, Public Relations Manager, 650-725-4657; Ruth Franklin, Phyllis Wattis Curator for the Art of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas, 650-725-0465

STANFORD, CA AUGUST 2000—Hair in African Art and Culture features 170 works of art drawn from public and private collections. The exhibition includes an exciting array of masks, figures, combs, hairpins, beads, neckrests, and an actual barber shop which shows the enormous importance of hair and hair styles in African cultures, past and present. Organized by The Museum for African Art in New York and curated by Dr. Roy Sieber, this is the first national exhibition of African art to come to the Center. Its presentation at Stanford is funded by the Phyllis Wattis Program Fund. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition.

The exhibition addresses several themes. One is the role of coiffures as a declaration of identity, marital status, social status, and age. Many classical masks and figures represent this theme. Another theme is the concept of hair itself as a power substance, embodying the essence of an individual. As such it can be used to empower objects, and some of the most compelling works are examples of this concept.

Another theme concerns the hairdo itself: combs, hairpins, wigs, and added materials for constructing a traditional African coiffure, as well as neckrests that help it to last longer. And to bring together past and present, the exhibition includes an actual Ghanaian barbershop, with many placards showing possible hairstyles. This section also considers the role of hair styles in African American communities.

In addition to classical and contemporary objects, the exhibition includes drawings and photographs, some dating to the early 20th century, from many parts of Africa. These indicate correlations between the styles represented on the various masks and figures and those worn by actual men, women, and children.

The Center will host an informal conversation on Thursday, October 5, at 5:30 pm with Drs. Kennell Jackson and Carolivia Herron. Professor Jackson first taught a course on Black Hair in African American Culture at Stanford almost a decade ago and will offer a new look at the subject in a seminar this year. He is the author of America Is Me, a question-and-answer history of African Americans, and contributed an essay to this exhibition's catalogue. Dr. Herron is widely known as the author of a book for children entitled Nappy Hair. Her scholarly work includes study of classical epic poetry and she has taught at Harvard, Mount Holyoke, Brandeis, and California State University at Chico.

Docent tours will be offered each Thursday at 12:15 pm and Sunday at 2 pm during the run of the exhibition. Tours are free and open to the public. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more and can be made by calling 650-723-3469. Other exhibition-related events include an Educators Open House on Saturday, October 7, from 11 am to 2 pm; a lecture, "Hair as both medium and subject for contemporary African American artists," by graduate student Cherise Smith on Thursday, November 9, at 5:30 pm; and A Good Hair Day, a free open house for the entire community on Sunday, November 12, from 12 noon until 3 pm. A Good Hair Day will include music, dance, hair braiding demonstration, and refreshments.

Yoruba Figure, Wood

Figure: ibeji
Yoruba, Nigeria
Wood, metal, beads, fiber; H: 32.5 cm.
Private Collection, Belgium

Face Mask, Wood

Face Mask
Igbo, Nigeria
Wood; H: 48.3 cm.
Collection of Toby and Barry Hecht