the debut of “textures: the history and art of black hair” at the kent state university museum

image by Kent State Museum- Marshall Shorts of Soulo Theory Creative

“One of the things that was really important for me was that we allow people to see the humanity in Black beauty,” co-curator Dr. Tameka N. Ellington said.

After being pushed back one whole year due to COVID-19, the Kent State University Museum welcomed the exhibit “Textures: The History and Art of Black Hair” on Sept. 10. This exhibit highlights the true history, research and artform of Black hair. 

Dr. Ellington started research on Black beauty back in 2002. The idea of creating this exhibit stemmed from Dr. Ellington’s desire to better understand why the society we live in still has such disapproval for Black hair. Dr. Joseph L. Underwood, assistant professor of art history and co-curator, arrived at Kent State University in 2017. When Dr. Ellington met Dr. Underwood, she knew he’d be the perfect partner to work with on the exhibit project. 

Devan Shimoyama. Elijah, 2020. Oil, color pencil, jewelry, glitter, enamel, feathers, and rhinestones on canvas stretched over panel. 40 x 30 in.

Searching for artists, barbers and cosmetologists to participate in this exhibit led to the discovery of art pieces and creators both never heard of before, giving them exposure for all to see their work and hear their story. This exhibit is the largest loan exhibition in the museum’s history, featuring the lended artwork and artifacts of 80 people, including African-American hair care pioneer Dr. Willie Morrow.

Madam C. J. Walker’s Advertisement ca. 1907

“Adding in the pandemic and the shipping issues and transportation, this is a miracle,” Dr. Underwood said. 

There are three themes of this exhibit: Community and Memory, Hair Politics and Black Joy. Community and Memory is a combination of the past and present; Hair Politics is the scrutiny that Black hair has faced; and Black Joy is the celebration of being Black. Each theme is meant to create conversation between visitors of the exhibit.

“I think one thing that was exciting was this wasn’t in a museum that is known for Black culture,” Dr. Underwood said. 

Both Dr. Ellington and Dr. Underwood hope to reach more audiences through this exhibit, informing them of the unique journey and history of Black hair. This exhibit allows Black hair to be safely discussed and approached. Because Black people are still not considered as beautiful as others by our society’s standards, this story is important to tell.

Masa Zodros. Femme Totem Blue, 2018. Unique digital photograph. 17.5 x 30 in.

“It was important to bring Black beauty to the forefront,” Dr. Ellington said. This exhibit shows the true beauty and humanness of Black beauty. By having access to this exhibit, we can begin deconstructing the discrimatination that Black people still continue to face. 

“Even if you don’t have Black hair, it’s around you, you should know something about it,” Dr. Underwood said. 

Sonya Clark. Black Hair Flag, 2010. Paint, canvas, thread. 51.25 x 26.1 x 1.1 in.

The Kent State University Museum exhibitions run on a school year schedule. The “Textures: The History and Art of Black Hair” exhibit will be open to the public for about 11 months. Take some time to visit this extraordinary exhibit while the opportunity is available. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Tuesday to Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The museum is closed on Mondays.


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Hi, I’m Grace Avery, a senior fashion merchandising student from Columbia, Maryland! I’m also the editor-in-chief of A Magazine. My staff and I are full of passion and aspiration as we commit our work to bring you the most meaningful and entertaining news from the realms of fashion, beauty, and culture. Our team is full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow our community into working professionals. Please go here to donate to A Magazine.

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