I would like to share with you the work of Laetitia Ky, an Ivorian artist who makes hair sculptures with her own hair, on her head. What do I mean? Well, just watch the video below. Laetitia has always loved hair braiding and began working with hair from a young age. She started doing hair sculptures last year, and has a big following on Instagram. She uses coat hangers, wires, needles, pins, and threads to make her creations. I knew our hair was special, with the Mathematics of Cornrows, Afro Hair: Crown Jewel of African Women and Men, but my goodness, she makes it amazing! The original is on BBC (I updated it on 12/11/2019 with the video from The Art Insider instead). Enjoy creativity at his best!
Today, we will be talking about hair, African hair, and hairstyles. One of the very common hairstyles used for Afro hair is cornrows. These were worn by women and men of centuries past as seen on Nok sculptures dating back 3rd century AD, Mende masks, Benin Kingdom masks, and are still worn today with great pride. Kings and queens adorned those like crowns. The great Emperor Tewodros II of Ethiopia wore them proudly! Imagine my surprise when I found a website where they had computed the way cornrows are made. Cornrows use about 4 geometrical concepts: translation, rotation, reflection and dilation. The styles are numerous ranging from simple linear compositions to complex curves and spirals. Check out this website and learn about the mathematics behind cornrows! Enjoy!
Last year, one journalist made fun of actress Zendaya’s hair because she wore dreadlocks to the red carpet; this reminded me of when Viola Davis had sported a short ‘afro’ to the Oscars … as if it was wrong for a Black woman to wear her hair in natural hairstyles. Why should an African woman be made to conform to something she is not? What is wrong with wearing our hair the way God made it?Without the relaxers, and perms made to straighten or rather beat the African-ness out? Every style should be celebrated.Our cultures are so unique… and the way we dress our hair is so unique, and should be loved and appreciated for what it is, a definition of who we are.
It is high time, African women accept, appreciate, and embrace their heritage. It is impossible to beat the Afro out of oneself… just embrace it, and wear it as a peacock wears its feathers … with great pride! The poem below “African Hair” by Esmeralda Yitamben just says it all, and as I read it, I am proud to be African, born with this amazing hair. The author writes about the versatility of the African (Afro) hair, its beauty, its abundance, its richness, its kinkiness, and yes, its unruliness as well. True, I do not agree with the author’s mention of relaxers, but hey… every style should be valued. The original poem can be found on Kalaharireview.com. Enjoy! (The BBC also did a piece on Afro hair).
Hair the colour of ebony,
Sometimes sprinkled with hints of mahogany.
As splendid, lush, and full as the equatorial rainforest of Congo,
Woolen and soft like a sheep’s fur.
Shining with shea butter,
like a gem, under the moon’s smile.
O Sustaining Nature,
Blessed are our heads with beautiful hair:
Hair that can be braided, cornrowed, relaxed, and yes, even locked.
From Jamaican style dreadlocks, like Bob Marley’s hair,
To Jackson 5’s Afro,
To Maasai bald heads,
To Fulani princess corn rows,
To Bantu knots,
To Senegalese zillion braids,
To simple, hard-pressed, relaxed hair,
Precious Mother, Thou have blessed the Black race with a lion‘s mane.
Have you ever looked at sculptures of women from the Nok civilization? Then you have probably noticed that Nok women wore their hair braided similar to the Fulani women of today, in beautiful goddess braids, and amazing styles. Ever looked at images of Queen Nzingha? She wore her hair in Afro, fully out.
What about the great Amanishakheto of Nubia, well, hieroglyphs at Meroë, show her sporting a gorgeous ‘Fro. And the fierce amazons of King Behanzin wore either braids, or shaved their heads, or sported afros. Today the tradition persists: the Himba women of Namibia and Angola wear dreadlocks decorated with red ochre, while Maasaiwomen shave their heads and Maasai men sport dreadlocks. For their wedding, the Wodaabe women wear amazing braids decorated with cauris, and jewelry. In our culture, there were intricate hairstyles for different occasions: passage of a girl into womanhood, courting, weddings, funerals, etc.
Isn’t it amazing how our crown jewel, our hair, can be worn in so many different ways? Isn’t it amazing that one could change hairstyle every two-three weeks, or even
every month? After all, nature gifted the African race with a lion’s mane, which can be dressed a thousand ways, why not take advantage of it? Nigerian photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikerecaptured some of these different hairstyles from women in the 1960-70s. Many African women from the 1960s-70s can be seen wearing tresses; and if you ever dig up pictures of your parents, you will see your mothers wearing those as well. His collections and books are amazing. Enjoy!