Hair is often considered a signifier of culture, through which tradition can be expressed in an outwardly visual, yet deeply personal way. London artist Kione Grandison draws on her own experience to explore this subject, specifically the liminal space that people of mixed-race can find themselves occupying in the environment of the hair salon. “Both white and black hair culture relate to my identity as a mixed race girl” Grandison explains. “My hair is long and Afro – no curl pattern (just frizz) in texture and has always been a huge part of my identity whether I liked it or not. ‘White’ hairdressers could never manage my hair and ‘black’ hairdressers would ask why I don’t relax it.”
These contradictory ideals left Grandison with a complex relationship with her own hair, an awareness that “my hair must have been different to ‘normal’ in some way. For years I’d either scrape it back or straighten it, but never relaxed it as I was fortunate enough to have parents who told me that one day I would learn to appreciate what I have.”
To create her handcrafted collages, Grandison draws on a wide range of source material, adapting imagery from hair salon packaging, black hair magazines and photography books such as Hairstyles, J.D. Ojeikere’s seminal series which sought to document the intricate hairstyles worn by African women throughout the 20th century.
“I think there is so much art and beauty in black hair styling, for so long black women have been sold a Western straight-haired ideal of beauty which is not their own.”
‘Human Hair Wigs’
‘It’s Just Hair’
By merging imagery of African and European hair styling, Grandison’s work comments on the Western hair industry’s appropriation of black beauty ideals and vice versa. “it’s interesting to find similarities between the two – both constantly imitate and borrow from one another. The white hair industry is constantly ‘borrowing’ (or appropriating) traditional black hairstyles: dreadlocks, intricate braiding… But on the other hand you go into a black hair shop and I would say the majority of the hair you can buy is straight/European in texture.”
“From writing the play, I’m aware of how vast, nuanced, beautiful and delicate barbershops can be. Also, how ridiculously funny, over the top, exaggerated and naturally theatrical those spaces are.” – Inua Ellams