To counter the stereotypical nature of art history, Nigerian-American artist Adebunmi Gbadebo uses Black hair from people from the African Diaspora to create her art pieces.
She feels it is about time to make art pieces rooted in the Black culture so people who look like her would find their place in art history as well.
Gbadebo chose to use Black human hair instead of traditional art materials because of the history and ancestry that is embedded in a single strand. “…And that strand connects us back to the continent, to Africa,” she told BBC.
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She said she wanted all to see Black human hair as something powerful that needs to be respected, as something that should take up space in ‘traditional’ art galleries.
Her journey began in the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she decided to use Black human hair “as a medium to depict her art on canvas”, BBC reported.
Gbadebo, born in New Jersey and based in Newark, sourced Black human hair from her local community barbershops and those in Nigeria and Morocco as well. At times, people who had heard about her quest to utilize Black human hair in her works voluntarily mail her their hair, she said.
According to her, the local barbershops and people’s homes became her art store and they trusted her enough to give a piece of their hair to her to immortalize in her art pieces.
“Dada” was the first piece Gbadebo created with hair. “I have sewn hair to canvas, and I hand sew most of my work. The needle replaces my brush and instantly, the process became more involved allowing me to pierce through surfaces to insert “nappy” hair,” she said.
“The needle also slows the process and reflects that of a hairdresser or a mother working on her child’s head that rests in between her thighs. I am looking for ways to integrate genealogies of the diaspora with critical discourse through my use of hair!” she added.
Gbadebo recently deliberately combined Black hair, cotton, rice paper, and different shades of blue for her exhibition at Claire Oliver Gallery in New York. A Dilemma of Inheritance focuses on her True Blue portraits which were inspired by the testimony of journalist and author Ta-Neshi Coates at a reparations hearing. “We recognize our lineage as a generational trust, as inheritance, and the real dilemma posed by reparations is just that: a dilemma of inheritance. It is impossible to imagine America without the inheritance of slavery.”
Coates’ words inspired Gbadebo’s exhibition. She said of the origins of the works: “As an artist, I’m confronting my relationship with the Gbadebocolor blue, Indigo, and materials cotton and rice in the context of their origins as commodities born of violence and enslavement,” said Gbadebo. “I’m interested in the whole system that produced these materials and how its memory has been treated.”