‘The Art of Afrotherapy’: Decolonising Beauty via Black Girl Magic at University

ART, IMAGE ACTIVISM, WORKSHOPS

“You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”― Nina Simone

The Psychology department of Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham U.K. were looking for a creative that they could collaborate with on the topic of black women and their black hair to produce an event. One of the reasons that I was recommended to them because of this…

Contemporary Natural Hair by the Pickyheads:

CNHG 1 LOG2 PICKYHEADS
Contemporary Natural Hair by the Pickyheads is a facebook group/blog that I initially created in order to counteract the sheer lack of contemporary representation of  black beauty. Another reason why I created the group is that I wanted to re-brainwash myself into loving myself aesthetically eg. my natural afro hair texture and skin tone. Very quickly as I started to unearth more information about history, race theory, black feminism, visual sociology and ethnography and injected this into the group. I started to garner attention from people of African descent throughout the world. Im not saying Im famous by any stretch of the imagination but a friend of mine that lived in Belgium was told about my group by a Black Dutch woman who was gushing about it and my friend soon realised

‘but thats my friend Honey!!!?!!!’

I realised that the group could be used as a tool to

‘Dismantle racism, white supremacy, colourism and misogynoir, using all forms of artistic expression within contemporary culture. All with the emphasis of bigging up skin tones, hair textures, hairstyles of african heritage in order to decolonise beauty’

The Event: The Exhibition

I was asked by psychology department of Trent University and Esther Akanya Educational Developer (Success For All- Social Sciences) Centre for Academic Development & Quality at Nottingham Trent University to come up with an idea for an event that would link psychology to black hair. So I came up with the idea of creating an exhibition and a workshop called ‘The Art of Afrotherapy’: Decolonising beauty through art afro textured discussion.

AFROTHERAPY FLYER

Creating artwork with 0 funds is tricky especially when you’re covering a topic that is arguably a part of the reason why you have 0 funds #irony – but that is another blog post. I have used my years of experiencing the slow poison of the intersectionality between anti-black misogyny, fatphobia and hair texture discrimination and how that effects every facet of life eg. employment, relationships, social media.  I also wanted to enthuse a sense of self care practised through creating art, music and also through facebook blogging, providing a space for a small part of a huge community of beautiful black women and images and links that centre our us, a reconnection with nature and black culture into my art.

I wanted a part of the exhibition to be immersive and so I invited the university to write their thoughts about black women, black women’s hair, the exhibition, and here are some of my favourite comments and images from the exhibition:

  • ‘Our rich and saturated melanin! it indeed pops severely and they be MADD!’
  • ‘Colourism is colonisation’
  • ‘Dont Touch My Hair’
  • ‘Black = beauty’
  • ‘People who complain about my hair in their face while dancing, Bitch you just been blessed :-)’

I started with creating my art and in a short space of time I had created a collection of pieces that were about decolonising beauty plus the colonising minds and express. Started with creating some new pieces of art on a shoestring and collecting older pieces that tied in with the theme of the exhibition.

I wanted my work to feature womanity of african descent, the different skin tones and natural hair textures, I wanted to communicate a sense of vulnerability, endurance and the beauty within that.

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The Event: The Workshop

In the U.K. and throughout the western world we are forced to conform to ideals of beauty and femininity that are racist white supremacist, patriarchal and anti-black.So in turn the afro textured natural hair that naturally grows from black people’s heads is often deemed unkempt, dirty, un-marriable, undateable, unemployable, rebellious, masculine and ugly. As opposed to men, it is still largely socially unacceptable for women not to have hair I’ve often wondered what effect this is having on women of African descent as it is seldom measured, analysed, unpacked and discussed not even nearly enough in the UK, especially outside London. Coupled with the fact that many black women are often culturally socialised to be self sacrificial and are often expected to hold families, churches and communities together often resulting in a degree self neglect but this level of self sacrifice it is not reciprocated. I have often wondered what effect does this have on the psyche and wellbeing of women of african descent in the uk?

presentation Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 21.51.52

There is a sizable population of women of African Caribbean descent that were born in Nottingham (largely of Jamaican descent and West African descent). Nottingham’s boasts 2 prestigious University’s both Nottingham University and of course Nottingham Trent University, both attract students from all over the globe. I wanted to to provide a space  within Nottingham Trent University that would act as a place for black women and others to vent their views on the topic of black hair, beauty and how it feels to be a black woman in the uk as there is catharsis in airing this topic usually hidden in plain sight.

I created a presentation that aided the discussion, culminating in sharing examples of black girl magic enthused artistic expressions of self care such as recording artists: Solange’s song ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, Jamila Wood’s ‘Holy’, Soul II Souls’s ‘Back to Life’ and powerful imagery of intoxicatingly beautiful natural haired fashionistas from the Afropunk Festival based in Brooklyn NY but now worldwide. Resulting in a brilliantly  nourishing, amusing, intimate and enlightening conversation. The changes that I would make to the workshop are that Id make it much more art based as I feel that there is a toxic amount of subliminal emotion tightly compacted and stored away within the intersectionality between British politeness, patriarchy and misogynoir… still to be unpacked.

A Black Woman’s Guide to Believing That People Will Buy Your Work

ART

I was asked by the amazing curator that is Saziso Phiri from the @theantigallery to be a part of their stall at the Crafts and Culture Festival in Nottingham, 10th December 2016, held at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham. I had little time to prep for it but I chose to throw myself in the deep end. I wanted to create a collection of affordable art that centered the beauty of black women, skin tones, style, self care, truths, thoughts and mantras…. basically an excuse to big us up once again. I also wanted the work that I created to soothe us as black women, because we are often so marginalised. Black womens capacity for empathy has always been vast even in an era where anti-black misogyny is normalised, Trump happened, Brexit actually happened, innocent black lives are being brutalised, wars are raging across the globe, Prince, Muhammed Ali and Bowie and so many more are dead… 2016 has been tough for us, so I thought that this would be a great topic to create work about but I did wonder would people buy it? Here’s the advise I would give to myself with hindsight.

  • Give yourself ample time to create work that you’re proud of!

Sounds obvious but it gives you time to make friends with the art you create, therefore you may believe in it more, giving you more chance to know what your work is about so that you can communicate that with others. Plus rushing can lead to drawing blanks when it comes to ideas… no one wants that!

  • Know that you are in competition with no one

Yes there’s lots of other artists making artwork in the world. There’s always going to be someone who has better technique, materials, skills etc etc but there can never be another person quite like you. Make you’re own lane and stay in it.

  • Forget that you want someone to buy what you create

Now this is hard because you know girls got bills bills bills to pay and being ‘bruk pocket’ is not a good look. You cannot produce your best work if your only goal is selling it. You have to put a piece of who are into your art or whatever you are creating. Forget what you think that people will like, YOU have to like it first. It’s cliched but it’s true.

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  • Enjoy it!

I watched a documentary the other day and a young white woman of around 26years of age worked as a graphic Designer but suddenly developed Parkinson’s disease and that really struck me. Part of the premise of the show was that they brought in top engineers to help people with debilitating physicalities. They had stopped her hands from tremoring and she could once again for the first time draw a straight line and write her name!

Needless to say #tears, and it just the smack in the face I needed to remind me to be thankful for the gifts I’ve been given and to enjoy them whilst I have them and to use what I’ve got. So put on your music, pour a glass of something delicious and let the creative juices flood the place and enjoy!

 

Crafts and Culture Fest 2016

Now back to the crafts and culture fest December 2016. Me and a beautiful clever woman called Nelta that I had just met were on the Anti Gallery stand, we talked and laughed all day but were also ever poised to sell mine and other works. We manned the stall all day watching people buy all manner of lovely crafts from woollen booties, paper roses, embroidered Christmas cards to chocolate fudge…. I honestly didn’t believe that my art fitted the fest, nor did I believe that my art would attract any of the clientele that the fest was attracting. I had kinda given up hope, plus I was soooooo tired from basically depriving myself of sleep, whilst creating the work.

But low and behold …Almost at the end of the day, I actually sold some work! In the end the piece that I ended up selling was titled ‘Evolving’ from the Afromantras collection. It was the biggest piece and one of the pieces I had thought about keeping for myself because I rather liked it. A cute couple bought it and they also bought a spray can lamp by @dontlookdown40.

#Funtimes, Happy days!

So the way to believe that people will buy your work is to let go of caring whether they do or not and enjoy it. Done.

[*If you are interested in any of the pieces shown here contact Honey Williams at thehoneyeffect@yahoo.com]