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Hair: Untangling Roots of Identity

Hair: Untangling Roots of Identity

Just as the human body is dressed and decorated to participate in various aspects of social, sexual, and religious life, human hair is a site of nearly constant concern, care, maintenance, and manipulation as a reflection of one’s own identity and outward affiliations.

As both a biological byproduct and cultural construction, hair is at once natural and contrived. Looking to hair as an extension of the human body, Hair: Untangling Roots of Identity examines hair’s function as an object open to both stereotypes and self-fashioning. Our exhibition explores the excess, absence, cutting, covering, growing, and grooming of hair as the both materialization of individuality and conformity.

Be it on your body, face, or head, whether removed, replaced, relaxed, dyed, bound, loose, long, short, curly, straight, or synthetic, hair is inherently inscribed with meaning as a manifestation of personal preference or imposed rules of conduct. Hairiness, hairlessness, hair texture, color, and style can define and distinguish individuals such that hair is at once universal and distinctive.

On the human body, hair is most readily associated with the head and genitals, the presence and absence of which can denote differences in gender, age, health, and hygiene. Hair can be perceived as the seat of physical strength, supernatural power, spiritual superiority, and sinful sensuality. Hair management is the product of obsession, abhorrence, attraction, repulsion, custom, and convenience.

Aside from its symbolic significance, hair also constitutes a global economy as both a commodity and the target of countless products. In 2015, the global hair-care market is forecast to have an aggregate value of almost $58 billion, an increase of 18.3% since 2010.

As an artistic medium and mediator of meaning, hair can communicate a sense of self and otherness to either uphold or upset conventional distinctions between divisions of gender, race, region, and religion, substantiating an embodied yet entirely external discourse centered on social and personal significance.

This exhibition is funded in part by grants from the Student Assembly Finance Commission and the Cornell Council for the Arts, along with generous gifts from Betsey and Alan Harris and from H. deForest Hardinge for the Cornell Class of 1953 Reunion.

2012–2013 History of Art Majors’ Society
Ariel Aicher
Rebecca Bogatin
Yi Soo Choi
Yichen Dong
Cameron Ewing
Kathryn Kremnitzer
Margaret Merrell
Chinelo Onyilofor
Daniela Pimentel
Kathryn Solomon
Kaitlin Vervoort
Katie Wong

Images from Hair: Untangling Roots of Identity (Click an image to open slideshow)