Black Hair as Art – The Work of Shani Crowe

Last weekend I had my hair braided for the 2nd time in years. This time last year, I was a baldie and had been for about 2 years. I would ask for a “1 1/2 all around” when I went to the barber on a biweekly, sometimes weekly basis, and my cut had to be CLEAN! I was extremely selective when it came to who would cut my hair and particular about how it was cut.
I was so annoying.
It wasn’t until I decided to grow my hair out that I found my favourite barber who gave me exactly what I wanted (he also happens to be an artist, of course).  With my hair being so short for so long, the braids were a new albeit familiar look for me.
Black women have a very intimate relationship with their hair, and braids even more so. As little girls we sat between legs for hours every Sunday to get ready for the week, while threatened to get “chop with the comb” if we didn’t keep still, and got greased up with Blue Magic or some other type of oil that EVERY little Black girl has had in their scalp at some point. It’s why we roll our eyes when someone mentions “boxer braids” and why Solange’s song “Don’t Touch My Hair” resonates with us so deeply. Our braids are how we achieved hair that was “kept and palatable”.  While everyone else could leave their hair out and blowing in the wind, this tradition, regardless of one’s country or island of origin, has been passed down for generations amongst Black families because this is just what we did with our hair. We really had to for public consumption. It was different and it was “other” but it was ours.
My new braids got me to thinking about braid queen Shani Crowe. Crowe, or @Crowzilla as she is known on social media, is a beast! Crowe created the exquisite braided halo that Solange wore during her performance on Saturday Night Live in November and her photography exhibit, BRAIDS, made a stop here in Toronto this past September as a part of the annual Manifesto Festival.
Crowe creates intricate, detailed, gravity defying designs reminiscent of those hairstyles of our youth. She showcases hairstyles that some may consider too juvenile for grown women to wear in public life; however, also has many of us thinking why not? These hairstyles are the same as those worn by the most regal of women in Africa and the Caribbean (present and past) and reminds us of just how beautiful and versatile Black hair is.
On January 28th, Crowe teamed up again with Solange and her collective Saint Heron to present “Roll Back, Say That with Shani Crowe. A Live Art Presentation of BRAIDS and Artist Talk”. Here Crowe showcased live models with her creations before a talk about the artistry, and tradition of hair braiding.
See below for images from the show.
Check out Crowe’s work by visiting her Instagram @Crowezilla and her website

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