Why do I create hand-sewn human hair artworks?
Answer: I started working with my hair after an artist friend suggested the line work in my wall drawings correlated to human hair. She equated the scratchy and undulating lines on the wall to the texture of hair. I was intrigued by the idea of utilizing hair in my art. Time spent experimenting with the medium of hair resulted in trial and error: gluing it to paper was messy and unruly, but sewing allowed me to translate drawing techniques (such as hatching, stippling, and cross-hatching) into stitches.
I have been collecting my hair on a daily basis since 2000. The collection of my hair is a ritualistic activity; I gather it by running my fingers through my hair each morning or by accumulating that which falls out during a shower. Saved hair is stored in plastic bins. Over the years, I have dyed my hair different shades of brown and red to obtain a greater variety of values and tones. There is a meditative quality to sorting hair – as preparatory work – I enjoy the texture of the hair through my fingers. I slide my fingers down its length and create work piles correlating to length.
My first few hair artworks were graphite, color pencil and a touch of hand-sewn human hair. After becoming more confident with sewing the hair, subsequent artworks were completely created with hand-sewn human hair. In 2002 I began to embed my hair artworks into 3-layer resin casts. Some recent works have intertwined hand-sewn human hair with thread and collage. In 2018 I began to create hand-sewn human hair artworks with my gray hair. Through the hair drawings, I am present in every artwork — literally. It is as if I have found the answer to living forever because I live on through my hair drawings …. momento mori.
Sociologist Rose Weitz published a work called Rapunzel’s Daughters: What Women’s Hair Tells Us about Women’s Lives. She examined the hair’s relationship to sexuality, age, race, social class, health, power, and religion. According to Weitz, hair plays a role in our identity because “It is personal, growing directly out of our bodies and on public view for all to see. And it is malleable, allowing us to change it more or less at a whim. As a result, it’s not surprising that we use our hair to project our identity and that others may see hair as a reflection of our identity.” Hair conveys symbolism in literary works such as The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope and Rapunzel by the Brothers Grimm. There are religious connotations to hair which coincide with symbolism reflecting strength, sensuality and reverence: Delila cut off Samson’s hair and Mary Magdalen washed the feet of Jesus with her hair.
My decision to collect and sort my hair to utilize as a vehicle for making art is informed by socio-cultural symbolism, feminism, body image, and religious symbolism. A woman’s hair is laden with sexual meaning; it is her peacock feathers which attract the opposite sex. Long luxurious hair is tossed around in television commercials, it’s shiny and gleaming with health, and it beckons our sense of touch. Cultural emphasis on long hair led to the development of beauty products to keep long tresses smooth and gleaming. Hair becomes important an attribute of our identity. There is an entire commercial industry built upon the need for longer hair, shiny hair, straight hair, curly hair, softer hair, etc…To the body conscious woman, hair is part of her appeal to the opposite sex.
I like the dichotomy of using hair because there’s the idea that hair can be sexy and engaging to people, on the other hand, it can also be repulsive. Consider finding a hair in your soup or a hair on your hotel pillow. When viewer’s see the drawings in person — the drawings beckon the viewer to move in closer. I have seen gallery patrons be impressed with the technique yet repulsed by the material.
“Our encounter with human hair is often a familiar experience. Most people spend time taking care of their hair daily — washing it, cutting it, cleaning it and styling it — making a public and social world around hair. This world can often also get deeply personal through our encounters with intimate body hair and its management or removal in keeping with the trends of the day. Yet, at the same time, hair occupies another secret world which is less talked about. This is the world of hair loss, the realm of hair pieces, wigs and hair extensions, of keeping up appearances and managing people’s anxieties and needs. This realm is revealed in all its complexity in Emma Tarlo’s new book, Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair.” – Shannon Philip, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2017/12/08/book-review-entanglement-the-secret-lives-of-hair-by-emma-tarlo/
Click on each image to enlarge. Enjoy!