Don’t Touch My Hair

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Books, Media Archive, Monographs on 2019-02-05 15:51Z by Steven

Don’t Touch My Hair

Allen Lane (an imprint of Penguin)
2019-02-05
240 pages
Hardback ISBN: 9780241308349
Ebook ISBN: 9780141986296

Emma Dabiri, Teaching Fellow SOAS; Visual Sociology Ph.D. Researcher, Goldsmiths

Despite our more liberal world views, black hair continues to be erased, appropriated and stigmatised to the point of taboo. Why is that?

Recent years have seen the conversation around black hair reach tipping point, yet detractors still proclaim ‘it’s only hair!’ when it never is. This book seeks to re-establish the cultural significance of African hairstyles, using them as a blueprint for decolonisation. Over a series of wry, informed essays, the author takes us from pre-colonial Africa, through the Harlem Renaissance, Black Power and into today’s Natural Hair Movement, the Cultural Appropriation Wars and beyond. We look at the trajectory from hair capitalists like Madam CJ Walker in the early 1900s to the rise of Shea Moisture today, touching on everything from women’s solidarity and friendship, to forgotten African scholars, to the dubious provenance of Kim Kardashian’s braids.

The scope of black hairstyling ranges from pop culture to cosmology, from prehistoric times to the (afro)futuristic. Uncovering sophisticated indigenous mathematical systems – the bedrock of modern computing – in black hair styles, alongside styles that served as secret intelligence networks leading enslaved Africans to freedom, Don’t Touch My Hair proves that far from being only hair, black hairstyling culture can be understood as an allegory for black oppression and, ultimately, liberation.

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Outside the Comfort Zone

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2019-02-05 02:52Z by Steven

Outside the Comfort Zone

The New Republic
2018-05-30

Jillian Steinhauer
New York, New York


Self-Portrait Exaggerating My Negroid Features, 1981. Courtesy of The Eileen Harris Norton Collection/MOMA

Adrian Piper’s art plays with identity and confronts defensiveness.

In 2012, the artist Adrian Piper made an announcement. The news was posted on her archive’s web site, with a cheerful portrait of her, head tilted, eyes warm and open, smiling. The photo would look like an ordinary head shot if it were not for the unnatural coloring—Piper’s hairline is orange, and her skin is an eggplant shade of purple. At the bottom, she included a note:

Dear Friends,

For my 64th birthday, I have decided to change my racial and nationality designations. Henceforth, my new racial designation will be neither black nor white but rather 6.25% grey, honoring my 1/16th African heritage. And my new nationality designation will be not African American but rather Anglo-German American, reflecting my preponderantly English and German ancestry. Please join me in celebrating this exciting new adventure in pointless administrative precision and futile institutional control!

Artwork Thwarted Projects, Dashed Hopes, A Moment of Embarrassment,2012 by Adrian Piper

She signed and dated it below.

On first reading, this announcement—which as an artwork is titled Thwarted Projects, Dashed Hopes, A Moment of Embarrassment—appears absurd: A person can’t retire their official identity and endow themselves with a new one simply by writing a note; Piper points to the futility of such an endeavor in her last line. But, like so much of her work, Thwarted Projects throws a challenge to the viewer: What new and liberating possibilities might appear if we took this conceptual exercise seriously?…

Read the entire article here.

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Adrian Piper as African American Artist

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2019-02-05 02:49Z by Steven

Adrian Piper as African American Artist

American Art
Volume 20, Number 3 (Fall 2006)
DOI: 10.1086/511097

John P. Bowles, Associate Professor of African American Art History
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

African‐American artist Adrian Piper has repeatedly staged her own racial transformation in order to unsettle the racist attitudes of her artworks’ American viewers. Piper looks white but in her video installation Cornered, for example, she tells viewers, ”I’m black.” Over the course of the video the decision to call one’s self black or white becomes a moral issue rather than a simple matter of genetics or parentage. In the process, Piper casts the possibility of racial identity into doubt.

Piper’s self‐transformations figure the fears and fantasies that define the myth of American whiteness. Citing the unspoken “one drop” rule of racialized identity—according to which a person with only ”one drop” of African blood running through his or her veins is considered black—Piper challenges the viewer of Cornered: ”You are probably black. … What are you going to do?” Piper stages herself as an object for inspection, but in a way that ultimately reveals less about the artist than about the viewer’s own attitudes towards race. She identifies miscegenation and folkloric accounts of passing as the founding crisis for a pseudoscientific race consciousness in order to challenge Americans to take personal responsibility for the history of racism in the United States.

Adrian Piper once rebuked an an critic for declaring that it “is crucial to know” in approaching her work “that Piper is a black artist who can easily ‘pass’ for white.” In fact. Piper responded, “‘black’ and ‘white’ are among the terms my work critiques.” This statement would seem to preclude her an from being easily categorized as African American, yet that is exactly how most of it has been studied, largely because Piper has used herself and her own experiences with racism as the raw material for much of her artistic practice. In her 1988 video installation Cornered, for example, viewers watch as Piper tells them. “I’m black.” Over the course of the video, however, the decision to call one’s self black is reframed as a moral issue rather than a matter of genetics or parentage. In the process, Piper casts the possibility of racial identity into doubt. Why don’t most art critics notice?1

Since before 1972, when she first confronted matters of race directly in her Mythic Being Series, Piper has always marked the distinction between herself and the role she performs as artist in her theatricalized work. While she uses “personal content”—stories about her own experiences—in some of her work, these anecdotes are carefully chosen and presented tools used to make ideas concrete rather than to make her personal life and emotions the subject of her art. Nevertheless, art historians and critics frequently characterize Piper as an angry black woman whose work blames viewers for the lifetime of racist and sexist discrimination she has endured. Such accounts typically imply that Pipers work is divisive, because black audience members are expected to sympathize with the artist while white viewers may experience only guilt or outrage. Some of Piper’s critics respond by diagnosing her as the distraught victim, lashing out unfairly at liberal museumgoers who would otherwise take her side. Even writers more in tune with Piper’s project interpret her work as autobiography. In the 1970s, for example, feminist art critics Lucy Lippard and Cindy Nemser both explained Piper’s Mythic Being as the manifestation of the artist’s “male ego,” despite formal aspects that cast the series as a critical and self-conscious performance of race, gender, sexuality, and class.2

In The Mythic Being: I/You (Her) of 1974, Piper transforms her appearance over a series of ten photographs of herself, taken in junior high school, beside another young woman, a classmate and friend. As with most of the Mythic Being photographs. Piper has added comic-strip-style thought bubbles in the I/You (Her) sequence by drawing, painting, and writing directly on the surfaces of the photographs. In this sequence, her face is slowly darkened while her companions remains unchanged. Pipers features are altered and exaggerated; she acquires sunglasses and a mustache; her hair grows into what she…

Read or purchase the article here.

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