As a student at Yale getting an M.F.A. in photography, Endia Beal interned in the IT department...along with her striking red afro. Black and taller than most of her colleagues, short(er) white guys, her tresses had the men curious and wanting to touch it. Instead of ignoring the elephant in the room, Beal responded like the artist she is by mining it for material. She asked the men not only to touch her hair but to really pull it and then, a week later, she recorded them on video talking about what was for many of them a new experience. "I wanted to allow someone to feel something different, to experience something they never had before, and through that experience, they felt uncomfortable,” she explains, "and then to talk about it kind of amplifies that feeling." (image)
That feeling inspired another really interesting experiment: enabling other women to experience some of what Beal had as a result of her hair and the workspace. The women chosen were white and in their 40s and older, mostly Baby Boomers, a demographic with pretty specific ideas of how you're "supposed" to look in the corporate world. She took them to a salon and gave each one a new "black" hairdo and had them agree that whether or not they were happy with the result, they would sit for a traditional corporate portrait. "I said, ‘I am going to give you a black hairstyle,’ and they were like, ‘You’re going to give me cornrows?’ And I said, ‘No, we’re going to do finger waves.’ ‘Finger waves? What’s that? You mean from the ’20s?’ And I said, ‘These are a little bit different type of finger waves!’"
Having the women actually go to work wearing their new hairstyles is obviously the next step, but Beal acknowledges that climbing the corporate ladder with a non-conformist coiffure comes with burdens to hurdle. In the mean time, she figured that an art project was a great way to start traversing that gap. Which members of the FOLKSPUN fashion tribe excel at: either keeping alive the arts and crafts that keep us alive inside or, as with Beal's "Can I touch it?" project, placing them in an unexpected context to create fresh and exciting new insights.
Here's the podcast I recorded about this:
Music: "Shades of Spring" by Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott