Other People’s Hair

“I like other people’s hair better than mine.”

Isn’t it always the way?

What’s the weird compulsion to straighten our hair when it’s curly, or curl it when it’s straight?

A lot of the time we’re fighting against our genetic nature: striving to differentiate ourselves from our immediate peers. We put on a style to describe who we are and what we are, or at least what we want to be.

Life gets much easier when we just accept what grows out of our heads (or what doesn’t), and make the most of that.

By the way, I don’t really like other people’s hair better than mine.

Maybe I used to once… but I’ve grown out of it, and my hair’s grown out too.

 

How does your hair shape your identity and community? Read “Roots And Culture” for more.


Smoking Man

Smoking Man: Lime Wood Carving, 2015.

There’s something a bit haunting and lonely about this piece.

I purposefully meant for him to stand apart from everything I had been doing, as if he was the embodiment of the outsider. Unlike most of my figures, this is an allegorical figure, not an exact portrait of a individual subject.

I wanted to follow the face and see where it would lead me, but at the same time resist the urge to polish that I usually indulge in my sculpture. The result was someone I did not know appearing out of the wood; as I carved, I decided who I wanted him to be.

I saw a worn down company man, mostly there but not entirely, waiting to be filled with whatever you expect to see inside and taking up less space than he wants to.

It was a bit like telling myself a short story.

Smoking Man. Lime wood carving with paper and graphite by Lee Devonish, 2015
Smoking Man. Lime wood carving with paper and graphite, 2015

Materials with their own truths

The thin slivers of coloured paper wedged between the raw wood blocks point to the shared origins of both materials and their differing end points, as well the level of refinement each material has received and its perceived importance in the structure.

I enjoy relating this lamination of materials to the seams of difference that run through us, whether in the form of feelings, ambitions or a sense of identity.

Smoking Man. Lime wood carving with paper and graphite by Lee Devonish, 2015.
Lime wood carving with paper and graphite, 2015

Planes, imperfections and crossed directions

We are all composites of parts that come from the same source but don’t quite fit, and our grain might not run in exactly the same directions within us. Cut us apart and we are cobbled together with pieces that are hopefully assembled, with the spaces between being sometimes as precious as the solid parts that surround and consume space.

Or perhaps we started whole, and lost something along the way?

This piece is available to buy direct or from Etsy.


Roots And Culture

Roots And Culture – how hairdressing constructs identity and race.

Hair, as a somatic marker of race, has historically been used as a tool in order to construct racialized subjects for oppressive means. The politics of afro hair styling – to straighten or remain ‘natural’ – can often appear to be simple, yet there is no clear consensus over how the personal statement becomes politicised, or whether it should.

This essay examines the concept of a post-racial future set out by thinkers such as Emmanuel Eze and Paul Gilroy, and considers the effects of the segregation of service provision for afro hair.

It considers matters of choice in identity and asks whether such a thing as a black community exists, and furthermore, to what extent does hair actively contribute to the concept of black community?

Context

This essay was written in 2013, before Rachel Dolezal became a household name; re-reading my words now, I can’t help but think about her as an example to illustrate the complexity of the construction of identity as well as community and belonging.

At the time, I lived in Peckham; it was a place where I could finally walk into any salon and get my hair done. I hadn’t been able to do that for thirteen years! I had a strange sensation of belonging on one hand, mixed with knowing that I was a newcomer to London and was actually a bit of a cultural mishmash; I didn’t really understand all of the cultures that surrounded me, but it didn’t matter. I still felt as if I could belong.

 

An excerpt.

“Where do you get your hair done?”

Mary had just arrived that month, transplanted from Kenya to Kent because of her new husband’s job at a local hotel. The question didn’t surprise me; I knew it would come eventually. It had to.

There weren’t many people she could have asked, seeing as the question was actually, “where can I get my hair done?”.

In our village there was me, and Donna. Kind of like a black girls’ support network. Only Donna always went up to a woman’s house somewhere in London and came back with a head full of new plaits and visible gridded scalp, and it was like a glorious mystery to me. She sometimes told me before she went, and I would order a box of relaxer so that I could straighten my hair at home, back in the days when I was chemically dependent.

Now, Mary had enough to deal with, learning the language of life in rural England, without having to make her way up to the sprawling metropolis in search of a hairdresser on her own. From where we stood, the A2 and A20 stretched down to us like dark, hairy arachnid arms, reaching out to us, pulling us in.

I knew that the closer we drew to the spider-city’s southern belly, the more they became cluttered with shopfronts offering fried chicken, money transfers, minicabs and, of course, hair. Hair in all forms. Hair to buy. Hair products. Hairdressing. But not just any hair – our hair.

Chapters

  1. Where Do You Get Your Hair Done?
  2. Race
  3. Raciology and Culture
  4. Hair
  5. Roots and Rhizomes
  6. Loose Ends
  7. Bibliography

 

Want to read the rest?

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Selected bibliography

 

Bell, R. H. 2002. Understanding African Philosophy: A Cross-Cultural Approach To Classical and Contemporary Issues. Routledge. UK

Biddle-Perry, G. & Cheang, S. (eds) 2008. Hair: Styling, Culture And Fashion. 2008. Berg. UK

Danquah, M. N. in: Tate, G. (ed.) 2003. Everything But The Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture. Broadway Books. USA

Foucault, M. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. USA

Fuss, D. 1989. Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature & Difference. Routledge. UK

Gilroy, P. 2000. Between Camps: Race, Identity and Nationalism at the End of the Colour Line. Allen Lane The Penguin Press. UK

Gilroy, P. 2002 There Ain’t No Black In The Union Jack. Routledge Classic. UK

Mercer, K. 1994. Welcome To The Jungle: New Positions In Black Cultural Studies. Routledge. UK

O’Neal, G. in: Johnson, K. & Lennon, S. (eds) 1999. Appearance And Power. Berg. UK

Stilson, J. 2009. Good Hair. Chris Rock Entertainment/HBO Films. USA

 

Roots And Culture by Lee Devonish - an essay about how hairstyling constructs racial identity and community.


Why Do I Paint?

Why do I paint?

When I was 14, one of my art teachers asked me fairly sharply why I wanted to paint in oils; was it because that was what I thought art had to be?

Actually, I thought that art had to be interesting.

After giving up two-dimensional work soon after starting university for a future career as a ceramic artist, I can honestly say that I didn’t hold any of the preconceptions that my teacher supposed I had. I just wanted to explore as many different kinds of media as I could fit in. I wanted to learn everything.

I still feel that way, and sometimes I think I could be happy with any branch of the creative arts, as long as there was a challenge involved, a skill to be learned, and a goal to be reached.

 

Technique and challenge

The technical aspect of the arts, whether navigating a four or six string fretboard, creating stoneware glazes, or getting perfecting registration for prints, is to me extremely addictive. Finding the links between these apparently disparate branches is in itself potentially compulsive, and I have to restrict myself for my own sake – although at times my projects do choose me, not the other way around.

Just knowing that there is so much more to be learned is terrifying and terrific at the same time.

 

Since I started seriously exploring painting as a teenager, my internal question was, just how do I want to paint? It’s taken quite a bit of time and experimenting to acknowledge my style.

It came down to what felt natural, and what felt like a departure. Not that the departures are any less important – they may be more important due to their very nature, and they have all embedded themselves in my working vocabulary.

 

The memory in the medium.

I knock about with all sorts of media but I’ve found a great relief in admitting what a love I have for oil paint. Just the smell of it alone conjures up decades of memories and a different mindset.

I went through an early phase of exclusively using a palette knife, then returning to smooth brushwork, experimenting with bold colour, all the while questioning what it was I really wanted to do with paint. I didn’t have a clue, really.

Analysis paralysis

The blank canvas – used metaphorically – can become a terribly frustrating thing in very little time.

Stopping for several years, working in clay and fabric was, perhaps, the best thing I could have done after all. When I came back to painting, the excitement of revisiting an old friend far outweighed any worry about the results. Somehow my memory took over and I found there was very little anxiety, as if I’d never put the brush down.

Despite this, I still prefer to think of myself as an artist makes paintings, prints, drawings and other works, rather than a painter.

 

Why paint at all?

This is the perennial question to the painter in the age of conceptualism and the dominance of photography and video. Its answer is simple, though – painting is its own purpose.

Filtering the image through the medium is the goal in itself: the physicality of paint and painting, with its smell, movement, texture, colour and its history takes it beyond pure imagery. In the end, what we paint now lives in the realm of the relic.

 


The Fire

The Fire

 

 

She shivered as the hot water ran through her hair and down her body, turning grey with soot and ash at her feet.

 

The smell was invasive,  thick and choking. It stuck to her skin and scratched her throat, and she coughed with huge gasping sobs.

Did he?

Her hands shook as she tried to wash it away from her face, making her feel weaker still, and she steadied them against the tiles and let the shower hit her. There was enough water for now, but she would have to get out eventually. She knew it, but could not face it yet. The water could get her clean but it couldn’t make the truth go away.

She knew he had tried to kill her.

The room had filled with steam by the time she turned the shower off and clambered out of the bathtub. She sat on the edge, gripping the towel she had wrapped herself in like armour, and wished she didn’t know it. What came next? That depended on whether or not he knew that she knew what he’d done.

What would he do once she came out?

Where was he now?

It was late – definitely after midnight – but she couldn’t tell exactly what time it was. Where was he? She couldn’t call anyone or go anywhere without him knowing.

The police.

But there was only one phone downstairs, where he would probably be sitting. She would have to wait until he was asleep, but no-one would be sleeping in the bedroom tonight, so that meant he would be sleeping downstairs. If he did plan it, why would he let her live to tell anyone? For tonight, they would both pretend that it had been an accident.

The shaking had not stopped but she had to leave the bathroom before her absence started to appear suspicious.

Even so, she might have locked herself in for the night had it not been for the baby. When the door of her bedroom had finally been opened after what seemed like an eternity trapped in the smoke, she rushed out and down the stairs, letting her breath out and sucking in the clean air outside the door of her son’s bedroom.

Don’t wake him up.

When she opened the door, everything was exactly as before, the baby sleeping in his crib, the ceiling unmarked, the air unchanged. The fire hadn’t burnt through the floorboards above. He was safe. She wanted to hold him but she had to get clean first, or the smell and sight of her might scare him. It was over and they were safe, and mercifully none of the neighbours had been woken up. It was over… until she began to think about what had just happened as the water washed over her.

 

 

To Be Continued…

 

 

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