This Afro Hair Exhibition Explores Slavery, Cleopatra, And The USA's First Female Millionaire

This Afro Hair Exhibition Explores Slavery, Cleopatra, And The USA's First Female Millionaire
a visitor studying a wall of busts with wigs
The Rich Tapestry of Afro Hair exhibition spans ancient Egypt to contemporary Croydon.

Cornrows, bantu knots, dreadlocks, Afro puffs and the iconic Afro — there are many iterations of 'Afro' hairstyles — and they're all the subject of an exhibition in Croydon.

The Rich Tapestry of Afro Hair delves into the meaning and purposes of Afro hairstyles through the centuries, from the legend of Cleopatra's straight hairdo to 'hair stories' from Croydon locals — via the story of  Madam C. J. Walker, America's first female self-made millionaire, who developed and sold Afro hair products.

an afro wig on a bust, with others behind it
Western society is experiencing a push back against demonising Afro hair.

Wigs, salon chairs and hot comb stoves feature in the free exhibition — on at Croydon's Whitgift Centre from 18 February-31 March — giving insight into Afro styles, tools and techniques.  

But the legacy of Afro hair, of course, is about far more than fashion. Braided hair, for example, has been used as a way to show a person's age, their spirituality, or to indicate that they achieved freedom from slavery.

The exhibition tells the story of Madam C. J. Walker, who pioneered hair products for Black women. Image: public domain

Yet recent Western society has shown itself to be wary of Afro hairstyles, often deeming it 'unprofessional', and even punishing children for what is their natural hairstyle.

Says Titilope Ogunnaike from the Windrush Generation Legacy Association (WGLA), which has curated this show: "Currently, we are experiencing a push back against a culture that demonises Afro hair and a resurgence of the natural hair movement. People are championing and embracing their natural hair textures and the diversity of Afro hair."

In recent years, celebrities — from Michelle Obama to Beyoncé — have flaunted natural hair looks.

a 1960s style living room with jazzy wallpaper
WGLA's exhibition space always features a 'Windrushers' living room'. This one will be updated to coincide with the Afro hair exhibition.

The WGLA gallery space in the Whitgift Centre also features a mocked up living room, typical of one that would be seen in a Windrush generation home during the 1950s/60s. This display will be updated to coincide with the Afro hair exhibition.

Meanwhile, at the entrance to Brixton tube station, you can currently see a wonderful vignette from a Black hair salon, in Joy Labinjo's '5 more minutes'.

The Rich Tapestry of Afro Hair, Whitgift Centre, Croydon, free entry, 18 February-31 March 2022.

All images © WGLA

Last Updated 18 February 2022

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