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An exhibition by vonMash on African hair

‘Umthwalo (Own your crown)’: An exhibition by vonMash on African hair

‘Hair plays a significant role in projecting our self-identity and beliefs. It is also believed that hair holds memories from our past. The one thing that made me focus on hair, specifically African textured hair, is the uniqueness and the beauty it holds,’ said vonMash to Eyewitness News.

Umthwalo (own your crown) an exhibition by vonMash on African hair. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG – Conversations around black hair have been raging for years in South Africa and in other parts of the world, like the United States.

The media has reported on incidents where young black girls have struggled to keep their hair in its natural form. One such example was in 2016, when Pretoria Girls’ High made headlines after it emerged that black pupils were being ordered to chemically straighten their hair.

For many years, black girls and women had their hair straightened and relaxed.

Their natural, black hair has a kinky texture which makes it denser than that of other races and as such, it has been stereotyped as unprofessional and untidy.

READ: Gauteng MEC Lesufi wants private schools to review hair policies

There have been multiple conversations in media, social media about or around black hair and artist vonMash has created artworks that explore the topic of black hair.

umthwalo (Own your crown) is a mixed media solo art exhibition by vonMASH that opens at Artivist in Braamfontein on Thursday, 4 August.

“Hair plays a significant role in projecting our self-identity and beliefs. It is also believed that hair holds memories from our past. The one thing that made me focus on hair, specifically African textured hair is the uniqueness and the beauty it holds, said vonMash to Eyewitness News.

The exhibition by vonMash uses collaborative multi-media artworks, to explore the ways in which our hair – and our choices and non-choices about our hair – is a binding thread. By augmenting vonMash’s artworks, the artist’s works calls attention to the function of hair strands as the strands which stitch together our past present; future and play a role in owning our true identity as Africans.

“Hair plays a significant role in projecting our self-identity and beliefs. It is also believed that hair holds memories from our past. The one thing that made me focus on hair, specifically African textured hair is the uniqueness and the beauty it holds. African textured hair is one of the most versatile and with interesting properties.It’s a representation of our authentic identity as Africans.Coming from the whole COVID lockdown situation most of us started learning more about ourselves in self-isolation or even started raising questions we never use to ask ourselves pre-COVID. One being where to from here and who am I in these fast-changing times. Hair plays a huge part in self-identity and self-expression; it just made sense to bring focus to it. I I know there are a lot of other issues in SA but let me just focus on one,” said the artist.

A 2017 study titled The Good Hair Study examined the explicit and implicit attitudes towards the hair of women of African descent in the US, and found that not only was the Afro hairstyle viewed as being less attractive on average, it was also seen as being less professional when compared with long, straight hair .

umthwalo is a visual dialogue on hair, inviting us to explore the multiplicity of meaning in the tangible and abstract things we carry with us every day and how those meanings have been fabricated and threaded through with metaphor,” said vonMash.

The fascination with the texture of black people’s hair can be traced back into history. During slavery, white women would often cut off the hair of their enslaved female servants because apparently it “confused white men”.

“For me, it’s a representation of African spirituality and Kemetic history. Some part of that is heavily influenced by the old tales we used to be told by our grandmothers about all that is happening around us and to us but we can’t see(the spiritual realm),” said vonMash.

In The Conservation, and you can read about how the politics of hair has deep roots. Ritually cleansing themselves, ancient Egyptian priests would shave their bodies and pluck their eyebrows every other day. In ancient Ghana, historical hair grooming involving hair combs and pins revealed leadership and status, while in nineteenth-century Madagascar, the Tsimihety did not cut their hair, presenting their tresses as a sign of their independence. American slave traders, on the other hand, shaved their captives’ heads supposedly to cleanse them. For many Africans, that act further stripped them of their dignity and symbolized cultural death.

umthwalo is a visual dialogue on hair, inviting us to explore the multiplicity of meaning in the tangible and abstract things we carry with us every day and how those meanings have been fabricated and threaded through with metaphor,” said vonMash.

The vision for the work originated in a dreamscape of vonMash: “Own you crown!” the dream shouted.

“For some, the power is in the broadening of that context to the point where we may simultaneously recognize the historical significance of hair cultures and abstain from statements of political intent, placing this representative power wherever else we may choose. Both are political, both are personal, both a claim. The exhibition lays out these two viewpoints on a spectrum and invites audiences to consider where they may lie.”

VonMash uses his art to look at all aspects of the history of hair throughout time and how black people should own their crowns and wear them proudly.

“I use it as a term of endearment towards African people and the diaspora at large. Learning in African history that we used to run kingdoms and had our own ways of doing things before the western invaded Africa. I’m merely suggesting that even as oppressed as we are as a race, we must not forget where we come from as well as the royalty and power we have inherited from our forefathers.”

VonMash is a young South African artist, utilizing new media (mixed media) to express himself. His work by him is heavily influenced by African mysticism as well as his childhood experiences of lucid dreaming. He draws a lot of inspiration from his personal view of life, African aesthetics, religion, social and political issues and the cosmic universe. The work is a blend of collaged images, textures and distorted colors and shapes; breathing life to a hyper-digital collage style he coined as “AFRIDELIC” art.

“I grew up in a big and diverse family. Being born in the 90s gave me both of the best worlds, having spent the first couple of my years in rural and not so favorable environments but full of love. In ’94, when the apartheid regime ended, my parents worked hard enough to get us out of the area and moved into urban areas where I now started interacting with white people and also began attending multi-racial schools. I am today,” said vonMash.

The exhibition opens to the public on Thursday 4 August until 30 September 2022 at Artivist in Braamfontein.

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