Black hair. A fascinating thing. As someone who has owned and worked on hers for twenty three years it’s also a complicated thing, not the hair itself (though God knows my relationship with my hair is nothing close to simple) but more what it continuously has to undergo; the debates, the criticism, the questioning. To make things clear, my Honours thesis was on the hair experiences of black women in contemporary South Africa and so I firmly believe that we have been positioned by society and history in such a way that our hair decisions (like it or not) must be analysed with a critical, enlightened lens. However, it gets tiring and that is perhaps why Nakeya’s work is somewhat refreshing. Whether it is those who fervently propose that black hair is nothing but a physical characteristic that somehow transcends the tempers of our history (and the messages in our magazines) or the more militant black hair patrollers who make it a hobby to speak in absolutes about what it means to relax or to weave, who like to polarise and dichotomise the black hair experience (“traitors who relax on one side of the room, comrades who don’t on the other, please”); this post is not for any of them – though by all means they are welcome to read.
I might be so bold as to say that, like Nakeya and her work titled "Hair Stories Untold" , I am not invested in policing (or polarising) the hair decisions of black women. This post is more about presenting depictions of black hair experiences in their myriad forms, experiences that I (and I am sure many of the black women reading this) resonate with at an almost visceral level. For those of you who don’t know, black women (and their hair) are subject to hegemonic beauty ideals that both define and debilitate us, we are constantly and unfairly set up against a measure of ‘good hair’ ‘nice hair’ ‘hair that people would want’ that is (quite literally) contrary to what we have, what we own and what we look like – in other words, we’re set up to fail.
But this photoset is not a protest for or against our precarious position. It is a representation of the experience. It is a snapshot of the work we put into a part of ourselves that is constantly, tirelessly scrutinised and also constantly misunderstood. For me, Nakeya’s message is simple, she is saying “look at what we do, look at how interesting it is, look at how striking it is”. True, my mane is policed, performed and politicised but Nakeya makes me think that, despite those things it is almost always rich and always beautiful.
Check out more of her work here