For centuries, braids have been making women of color feel powerful. To highlight how braids continues to make Black girls feel magical as well as the history of the intricately expressive hairstyle, Artist Shani Crowe decided to document her relationship with braids at Brooklyn’s Museum Of Contemporary African Disporan Arts (MoCADA). Appropriately titled, BRAIDS, Crowe told Refinery 29 what inspired her to curate such an exhibit.
“As a child, I would get my hair braided every two weeks by one of my aunts or an older cousin. I picked up the skill from watching my relatives braid, and practicing on dolls. When I was around 11, and my aunts couldn’t execute the designs I wanted, I began braiding [on] my own. I was a walking advertisement for myself, and ended up attracting clientele,” Crowe said. “This project is an unapologetic assertion of my pride in my braid art, my culture, and my African ancestry.”
Refinery also asked Crowe for her thoughts on the Kardashians or other non-Black celebrities trying to make braids trendy. Revealing that she’s grown tired of this particular conversation, Crowe still dropped this gem on the matter: “I’ve learned that spending efforts to change someone’s opinion is often mute, as that person has to choose to change their minds or see new perspectives when they’re ready. The only person I control is me, and I choose to create and photograph beautiful braids to honor Black women and hopefully foster connectivity and Black unity.”
On MoCADA ‘s website, Crowe eloquently wrote: “BRAIDS is a series of photographic portraits celebrating the beauty and nuanced artistry of hair braiding. Influenced by an Afro-centric, non-linear time sense where past, present, and future are intertwined and concurrent, BRAIDS draws from a variety of eras. It is an amalgamation of inspiration from ancient artifacts, traditional African braid styles, popular culture, and Afro-futurism, filtered through my perspective. Each portrait can be appreciated at face value, but the imagery conjures a specific nostalgia for African American women who remember both having their hair braided and braiding someone else’s. The opportunity for deeper understanding among Black Women allows a paradigm shift, where a group seen as a double minority has an inherent advantage. By referencing an intergenerational collective memory, seated in the crest of the Black feminine experience, I create an instance of privilege.”
BRAIDS will be featured at MoCADA until July 10.
Check out a sampling of Shani Crowe’s pieces below.