New exhibition explores the meaning of hair

Hair is more than just threadlike growth in human beings. It has played an important role in culture, religion, politics, rituals and identity throughout history and today. In some cultures, hair is a source of strength or a sign of femininity, virility and beauty. The way it is cut, styled, processed and preserved embodies individual and cultural values. At times it has been the subject of cultural and political conflicts, such as legal debates in the United States over discrimination against natural black hairstyles in the workplace and in the classroom. Hair is also a means of cultural preservation. It is both symbolic and personal. Hair is the longest lasting part of the human body, and as such, the problems surrounding it are ongoing.

“Hair Stories,” on display at the Newport Art Museum from July 17, brings together a diverse group of artists whose work focuses on hair or uses it as a medium, and explores the multiple meanings of hair today. From hair jewelry and lockets that fetishize hair to photographs, sculptures and video works that celebrate hair, this show examines how hair functions as a complex set of codes and as the raw material charged with artistic expression. Themes include history, narrative, loss and mourning, and identity (cultural, racial, ethnic, gender and sexual identity). Featured artists include Eunice Adorno, Melanie Bilenker, Tara Bogart, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Sonya Clark, Sean M. Johnson, Nneka Kai, Vivian Keulard, Wangui Maina, Ana Mendieta, Patricia Miranda, Zanele Muholi, JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Shahzia Sikander, Lorna Simpson, Gu Wenda, Nafis M. White, Anne Wilson, DM Witman and others.

All are invited to an opening reception celebrating “Hair Stories” and its exhibiting artists on Friday August 6 from 5 pm to 7 pm. The event is free for Museum members and a suggested donation of $ 10 at the door for non-members. A preview of the exhibition was enjoyed during the Summer Art Party on Friday July 16. Tickets for the event are sold out, however, those wishing to make a charitable contribution to the Museum’s exhibition program are invited to text “SummerArtParty” to 76278 and follow the evening on Instagram by following @newportartmuseum and #ArtPartyNPT . “Hair Stories” takes its title from the many artists in the exhibition who use hair both literally and figuratively to weave or tell stories. “The genesis of this idea came to me when I considered the work of María Magdalena Campos-Pons,” said senior curator Francine Weiss, PhD. “In her multi-part Polaroid self-portraits, she uses hair as a visual and narrative device. It transports the viewer from one panel to another and functions as a readable symbol in individual photographs. By exhibiting artist Tara Bogart’s series, “a modern hair study”, the artist photographs each model from the back and explores the hair and ornaments in relation to the period of young adult life during which they form a sense of self and struggle with the timeless. riddle of how to define and present their individuality to the world. Instead of the almost immutable personal characteristics of the face, the details of each model – from the way they style their hair to their tattoos or jewelry they wear or just how they hold their head and shoulders – emerge fully as distinct personal traits. On Saturday August 7, people aged 20 to 30 and self-identified women are invited to pose for Bogart’s “A Modern Hair Story” series. More information and registration are available at

Another ‘Hair Stories’ artist, Nnkea Kai, weaves and incorporates Kenakalon’s hair into sculptures, installations and performances, and creates unique and striking works of art that explore the issues of darkness (as social construction), the African diaspora, black femininity, racism, and the institution of slavery.

“In my studio practice, I explore the concept of black femininity and its empowerment to reimagine and create an abstract fusion of a black gendered body,” Kai said. “By using hair as the main material, it becomes a vessel in which its materiality possesses a methodology of intimacy, care and autonomy. “

An Artist Talk series featuring many of the artists featured in “Hair Stories” will take place throughout the show and through the fall. Visit for times and subscribe to the museum’s mailing list to be alerted.

“Hair Stories” was made possible by the generous support of the West Bay Foundation, Steven and Ellen Bowman, Chas A. Miller III and Birch Coffey / Charles A. and Lois H. Miller Foundation, Cleo and Michael Gewirz, Susan and George Petrovas, and Dwight and Susan Sipprelle.

For a full schedule of exhibits, events, classes, camps, and more information, please visit or stop by 76 Bellevue Avenue, Newport.

“At the Museum”, offered by the Newport Art Museum, appears monthly in The Daily News and online at For more information, call (401) 848-8200.

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