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day one: you can touch my hair

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- Antonia Opiah

We totally didn’t know it would get this big…

Day 1 of our two-day exhibit, “You Can Touch My Hair” happened yesterday and it got quite the reaction.  Some have welcomed it as a much needed discussion, while others dub it a human petting zoo.  I’ve been holding back my response to the response because the exhibit needn’t be explained or defended.  Art is something that should create a response, whether it be an emotional one or a verbal, a good response or bad response. And really good art has the power to create change.  Is this really good art?  That’s yet to be seen and we may not see it’s impact, if any, for years.

But at the very least a dialogue was started and that was the intent.  ”Can I touch your hair?” is no longer a question only I and my friends are talking and  venting about.  So far hundreds (maybe thousands?) have put their two cents into the matter and we want more people to join the conversation.  And maybe amongst all the tweets in the Twitter-bate and comments in the articles that were written about the exhibit there is real insight in the larger issue at hand or maybe this is just a moment for us to collectively vent.

We encourage more people to partake in this discussion.  Join the #youcantouchmyhair or the #youcanTtouchmyhair debates on Twitter or leave a comment here.  The conversation that is happening is not a comfortable one, and as I told Julee from the Huffingtonpostsometimes we have to get comfortable in being uncomfortable to really break ground.

(On a side note, it would really be great for everyone participating in this convo to read the article that started it all.  Also, call me biased, but this article is a good account of what went down yesterday).

In the days following day 2 of the exhibit we will share a more in-depth account of the event and what we learned, but for now here are the highlights from yesterday…

(UPDATE 6/13/13: Many have asked, “What were you thinking?!” We explain here.)

highlights from yesterday… the web was abuzz…

 

Teaser video from yesterday’s exhibit.  More will certainly come after tomorrow’s event…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=Lx4eIfRDSGg

 

from huffpost live…

Imani Perry (Professor, Center for African American Studies, Princeton University) and Michaela Angela Davis (Image Activist / Editorial Brand Manager at BET) joined in on the discussion on HuffPost Live watch the full video here.

huffpostlive

 

to the blogosphere…

  • The Root, Touch Her Hair, but Stay Away From Mine: …On a more serious note, this exhibit bothers me because it does absolutely nothing to battle the dehumanizing fascination with black hair and black bodies that has persisted in this country since its inception. 
  • The Frisky & VibeVixen, Debate This: Should Black Women Allow Others To Touch Their Hair?:  …But are projects like this helping or hurting black women, whose hair has traditionally been the object of so much fascination by whites? Is it another way for our culture to objectify and fetishize black women, or is it a step in the right direction?
  • Beautycism, A Case Of Art Imitating (Black) Life: …“So far, it’s been an equal amount of black and white people touching. The black people come up and say, ‘Oh yes girl, I know!’ or ‘You look fabulous.’ There have been some men coming up, too. But the whole point of this is to get the dialogue going,”
  • Color Lines, Real Life Black Hair Exhibit You Can Touch in NYC’s Union Square: …Just imagine, an interactive public art exhibit where everyone can “explore the tactile fascination with black hair by” touching real life black hair on real life black women. 
  • Clutch Mag Online, New York City Art Exhibit Lets Strangers Touch Varied Textures of Black Hair:  From the comments: Asking to touch someone’s hair is entirely different than putting someone on display, that’s stating that someone/or something about them is “abnormal”. I would NEVER place someone on display like an abnormality, this is dehumanizing, just as the “tours” of the “ghetto” to gawk at the poor people of America are, and to try and justify it is wrong, period.

 

to instagram…

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to twitter…

https://twitter.com/ArriannaMarie/status/343046931615977473

https://twitter.com/OfeliaPnj/status/342987636790677504

https://twitter.com/STFUKirbs/status/343033525982859264

https://twitter.com/kinksandcurls/status/342801014426062848

https://twitter.com/localocaloba22/status/342843745873571841

https://twitter.com/TallGrrl/status/342990432030031873

 

https://twitter.com/kdc/status/343039423811837952

 

https://twitter.com/theFCKNempress/status/341734441099599872

 

My personal fav:

 

https://twitter.com/bobeaubreaux/status/342790454363975681

 

  • http://www.goldendovesent.com Dupsy Opiah

    This is a great idea “You can touch my hair”. Alot of my white friends love to touch my hair. But when I started wearing front lace wigs, i would tell then to go easy lest they pull the wig off my head, that I would hate! Wendy Williams touch her own wig all the time hidding the little notes under the wig, but she would never allow anyone to touch it!

  • Lori

    I think this event is a great idea! Waaaay back in the day (er… the 80′s :)) when I shaved my head and went natural for a spell, it was all the non-black ppl who embraced my hair, ASKED (yes, they asked) if they could touch it and thought it was cool. It was the blacks who had issues with it and talked about me like a dog. Unfortunately, not knowing how to care for my natural hair, I succumbed to the all mighty chemical. That is why I’m not surprised by the overwhelming negative response on line by blacks. However, I applaud you for putting black hair out there in the forefront. What you’ve done is built yet another bridge between ppl when so many others do all they can to create chasms. I have a 3 year old boy and I’m amused by the amount of white ppl who love his hair! They touch it and marvel at how soft it is. Now, I’m no fool, but not once I have ever detected a sense of condescencion. Just ppl marveling how cute my kid is! So keep doing what you’re doing, Unruly. . I have a feeling future generations will benefit from you efforts. Peace

  • jmason

    I’ve had a couple of co-workers touch my hair because they thought it was a wig. I usually wear my hair straight but I loved the curls I get using Curlformers. So my hair was curler. The same person touch my hair when I wore it curly a few months later. If she had asked, I probably wouldn’t mine.

    A couple of days ago a neighbor was admiring my long henna’d hair. My mother was with me and before the neighbor could ask my Mom said “Yes, it’s all her hair!”. :)

  • Dee

    When are you bringing this awesomeness to San Francisco? We have a Union Square, too.

  • Mignon

    Antonia, I think this is a wonderful exhibit! People who don’t have hair like ours would obviously have a curiosity about what it feels like. And this would give them a chance to understand a bit more about their wonder. I would love to help, so if you need more hair models I’m willing to volunteer for your next exhibit. I am all for people better understanding & accepting black women’s hair in today society! Good job bringing that awareness to the public!

  • Riley

    I’m from the nation’s cap and would loooooooooove to have this at union station or especially gallery place Chinatown where large amounts of different races pass by daily (especially gallery place on a Friday/Saturday). I would also love to participate although my fro is far shorter and far more nappy. I love when people ask to touch my hair and especially black people because there is a predetermined idea of what natural hair feels like and I absolutely love explaining the ins and outs of all facets of black hair relaxers, weaves, texlaxes, and natural/locs.

  • Dell Hamilton

    Dear Un-ruly Hair:

    I am curious if you could shed light on the following question: how and why does this function as art? Put another way, what is distinctive about this project that makes it a work of art as opposed to just a social experiment? Not that those are mutually exclusive, but because I’m a working artist, I am interested in what exactly it is that makes this exhibit artistic. Also a few questions about how the staging was designed. Who was the audience for this project? What was the ratio of whites to non-whites who touched each head of hair?If the number of non-whites was higher – did that still make the project effective?

    Many thanks for your responses,
    Dell

  • http://Bespokecurry.wordpress.com Amber

    I am inspired by this. so much of our hair has been attached to past traditions and the only way we can create new ones is to challenge why we are so uncomfortable and why others may be comfortable or uncomfortable with touching ethnic hair. As a hairstylist and someone who hasn’t necessarily wanted someone to touch their hair uninvited, this to me is so very much needed. If we want for out hair to not be villainized and for out hair care standards to be considered along with those of Vidal Sassoon and others then a change must happen and this is the beginning. Thank you. Truly thank you!

  • Karen

    I am a curly girl (white) who grew up in a very white environment – I am from Jersey in the Channel Islands (near France!). I met and made friends with a black girl when I was 16 and I asked her if I could touch her hair. She wasn’t offended (should she have been?) and said yes. I was really interested to see if it felt different to my curly hair because it certainly looked different. And surprise, surprise, yes it did feel different – really lovely and soft. She then went on to show me how she put baby oil in her hair and put it into little braids before going to bed. This was the early 80s. We spent a lot of our time together laughing cos I kept asking such stupid questions like can you get sunburn and do you blush . . . yes I know, but hey I was 16 and very naive. Isn’t it just part of natural human curiosity to want to know things about someone who is different to you – be that culturally, racially or sexually? Should we be afraid to engage in information sharing with our fellow humans?

    • Nik

      Hi Karen, I so appreciate your honesty. My response is to give you my experience – and in the spirit of growing, not hostility. To help put it into perspective as to why it could be hurtful or seem insensitive to some… here are my two cents. When I was growing up in a racially diverse school, I had people (some friends, some not) comment about my hair, ask the same questions that you did. It was always a white person. Often times my answer was followed by a judgemental statement on their part – i.e “ewwww” or “that’s weird.” At the time, the culture / media frowned upon big lips, big butts, broad noses, kinky hair, etc… – anything that was the anti-thesis of Caucasian beauty. Given that cultural backdrop, the problem is when one feels alienated by the questions. Many of us are already conditioned by society to defend how God made us. Second, I was blessed to meet many people from various cultures – Samoans, Cambodians, Latinos, Caucasians, Asians, etc. Not once did I wonder if their human body had the same basic characteristics as me (blushing, sun burn/tan, etc) These questions, while they seem / are innocent, can be hurtful to the person on the receiving end if makes them feel objectified or SO extremely different that common sense doesn’t prevail. From a young age, I had to understand the white culture & I understood my culture. Naturally, it stings when our culture is so alien, yet we live in such close proximity.