Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark

Taubman Museum of Art
October 1, 2016 – May 14, 2017

Multimedia artist Sonya Clark (American, Born 1967) work has featured hair and combs in the place of more traditional fibers and art making materials. Clark’s personal connection to the comb began like that of nearly every young girl, squirming on a chair while an adult readied with a comb and good intentions attempted to bring order to the disorder on her head. Clark states, “Hairdressers are my heroes. The poetry and politics of Black hair care specialists are central to my work.” Follicular featured sixteen works including new sculptures along with performance and participatory elements that utilize traditional techniques of fiber art: braiding, embroidery, and weaving but with implements of hair grooming and human hair. Referencing hair styling as “primordial fiber art,” some of Clark’s work investigates the functionality and symbolic roots of human hair and hair styling tools such as black barber combs and barber poles while other work involves collaborations with African-American hair stylists. Clark comments, “Visceral memories of hairdressing evoke the forms: oily pomade between the palms and on fingertips to be massaged into parted hair, the buzz of the clippers, the smell of the lye in the relaxers, the pungent odor of burning hair, the slice of scissors through thick locks, the rhythm of braiding, the sound of the brush against a scalp, the tug of the tangle being forced to conformity.” Hair is a material that links humans genetically, and hairdressing is, according to Clark, “the first textile art form.” Citing inspiration from Samson and Rapunzel to contemporary artist Lorna Simpson, Clark’s work addresses the power inherent in hair in terms of its beauty as well as references to various cultural norms in styling it. Using combs in tandem with hair, Clark speaks meaningfully about cultural heritage, gender, beauty standards, race, and identity while transforming both into sculptural objects.

Sonya Clark is a Professor of Art and the History of Art at Amherst College in Massachusetts and was a Distinguished Research Fellow in the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University. She earned an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BA from Amherst College where she also received an honorary doctorate in 2015. Her work has been exhibited in over 350 museums and galleries worldwide. She is the recipient of a United States Artist Fellowship, a Pollock Krasner Award, an 1858 Prize, and an Anonymous Was a Woman Award. “Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark” is curated by Amy G. Moorefield, Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the Taubman Museum of Art. Exhibition and education support is provided in part by the City of Roanoke through its Arts Commission.

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