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
Yi Soo Choi
Images from Hair: Untangling Roots of Identity (Click an image to open slideshow)
iona diamond (a.k.a. iona rozeal brown, American, b. 1966), a3 #16 w.o.i.m.s., 2004. Acrylic on paper. Acquired through the generosity of the Donors to the Contemporary Art Fund, 2004.025. Courtesy of the artist.›
William Hogarth (British, 1697–1764), The Five Orders of Perriwigs, 1761. Etching. Gift of Theodore B. Donson, Class of 1960, 90.055.008.›
Lorna Simpson (American, b. 1960), Counting, 1991. Photo engraving and silkscreen. Acquired through the generosity of Prof. Salah Hassan; William Berley, Class of 1945; and the Class of 1951, 2006.097. Courtesy of the artist.›
David Graham (American, b. 1952), Shirley Temple, Mummer’s Parade, Philadelphia, 1983. Type-C color print. Acquired through the Museum Membership Fund, 87.025.005. Courtesy of the artist.›
Jacques Reich (American, 1852–1923), Abraham Lincoln. Etching. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Oswald D. Reich, 71.049.017.›
William Rogers (British, active ca. 1589–1604), Queen Elizabeth. Engraving. Collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, 63.323.›
Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607–1677), after Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Dürer’s Self-Portrait of 1498, 1645. Etching. Bequest of William P. Chapman, Jr., Class of 1895, 57.141.›
Javanese, Arjuna, 20th century. Buffalo leather, horn, and pigments. Gift of Professor Benedict R. O.’G. Anderson, 81.033.005.›