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Black hair exhibition exposes discrimination during debut at Kent State University

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Posted at 6:50 AM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 09:53:10-04

KENT, Ohio — Black hair has faced scrutiny and discrimination for decades.

“This topic has been an issue for over four hundred years, ever since there was colonization,” said Dr. Tameka Ellington, Associate Professor of fashion design at Kent State University. “I was a freshman in college and I went to work for an amusement park. One of the things that I noticed was that in their dress code. They had listed all of the hairstyles that you could not wear and pretty much all of those hairstyles were Black hairstyles.”

Ellington says the experience was triggering and fueled 20 years of research.

“What is the disdain with Black hair? Why does overall society have this disdain? Why does the Black culture within itself have a disdain for Black hair,” she asked?

Joining her in the quest to find answers was Dr. Joseph Underwood, Assistant Professor of Art History at Kent State University. After four years of brainstorming, the duo created a new exhibition, "Textured: The history and art of Black hair.”

“These stories, they cross cultures and I think that's what really drew me to the project,” said Underwood. “I am Asian American. I do not have Black hair, but it doesn't mean I don't have something to learn from the topic or I don't have something to add to the conversation or I don't have a responsibility to understand where it fits in society or where it hasn't.”

The exhibition curated from themes like community and memory, hair politics, and Black joy. It has 180 paintings, sculptures, hair artifacts, photographs, advertisements, magazine covers, hair products and other media.

“This isn't you know, hair is just one part of the Black experience of discrimination in this country, but what I think what we wanted to do was make sure we told the story in a larger setting,” said Underwood.

To help tell those stories, the exhibition includes voices of Black artists, barbers, hairstylists here in Northeast Ohio. Their interviews are featured in a digital green book.

“It was really important for us to have a community connection with all of this,” said Ellington.

Their goal is to create a connection that could help mend past experiences and spark change for generations to come.

“This isn't just for a certain population to come to the museum. This one's actually for everyone to come and gain understanding,” said Underwood.

The exhibition opens on Friday, Sept. 10 to Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Click here for more information.