200 Days in the Life of the College

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rite of Passage: Art with roots

By Chiquita Paschal ’10

When I was a child, my mother, in hours of painstaking devotion, would wrestle me out from under my bed to tame the obstinate mass of unruly lamb’s wool threatening to overtake my head. I began having chemical relaxer treatments to permanently break the bonds of my Afro sometime around kindergarten, and have not seen my natural hair since. The frequently painful process of erasing my “nappy” roots was always assuaged by the allure of silky tresses. And so began my ambivalent relationship with the caustic ritual of “beautification.”

A subject and medium as pervasive as hair is both more universal and more individually specific than I could ever hope to represent from my experience alone. Thus, the pieces presented are meditations on different aspects of a cultural obsession, and an ongoing desire to balance the motives of assimilation and the crafting of a personal truth.

Our hair is a gift of our ancestors, a distinguishing reference of a genetic and cultural composition. We communicate our values to others through our aesthetic decisions. In cultivating the hair as a framing device, how do cosmetic transformations affect the person we become? And at what point do these artifices become a way of masking painful histories?