Stamford, CT — Franklin Street Works, a nonprofit contemporary artspace in Stamford, Conn., presents Roots & Roads, an original, group exhibition featuring contemporary art that explores the connection between black hair culture and counter-hegemonic narratives of affirmation.
The exhibition opens on Saturday, Feb. 8, 5-8pm, 41 Franklin Street, with a free, public reception and a commissioned performance by Nadia Wolff. In the performance, “A Litany,” Wolff cornrows and weaves a braided/woven basket structure onto a model’s crown. “Initially inspired by the practice of women and children piling materials high upon their crown in order to transport items,” says Wolff, “this piece aligns imagery and textile traditions from Black diasporic– particularly Haitian and Yoruba– religious performance and art with commonplace gestures of braiding, craft making, and transport of goods.”
A group show, Roots & Roads focuses on recent work by emerging Black artists and is curated by Anita N. Bateman, a Providence, Rhode Island-based curator who specializes in modern and contemporary African art and art of the African Diaspora. The exhibition developed as a tribute to the African women who braided seeds and rice into their hair, and into the hair of their children, to ensure that they could provide sustinance despite the unknown circumstances effected by the transatlantic slave trade. This practice is a reflection of the central role hair and land play in articulating ideologies of affirming Blackness, both on the continent and in the African Diaspora. The exhibition title plays on homophones “roots” and “routes,” examining the multiple meanings of each in relation to history and memory.
“Black hair has been targeted in every aspect of society: in school, in the workplace, and even within Black culture itself,” Bateman says. “As an Afrodiasporic subject, I wanted to think about the social institutions and creative practices concerning hair, facilitating dialogue amongst other Black folks about the idea of ‘rootedness.’”
The works in this show explore visual similarities and symbolic parallels between land and hair across different forms of media, including video, performance, sculpture, and photography. For instance, Katarra LaRae Peterson’s “Untitled (hairpiece triptych)” combines synthetic hair and paint on paper to create abstract landscapes, or hairscapes, which consider the materiality of hair within the context of race and representation as well as what it means to respect boundaries; and Nontsikelelo Mutiti’s site specific installation is inspired by products sold in beauty supply stores and the geometric intricacy of braided styles. By examining environments integral to the construction of Black cultural practices, the artists in this exhibition consider the subtle and more direct associations hair has to inherited legacies of dislocation and estrangement, and conversely, belonging.
Exhibiting Artists: Nakeya Brown, Becci Davis, Morel Doucet, Adama Delphine Fawundu, Wangui Maina, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Katarra LaRae Peterson, Jay Simple, Julianknxx, Bryan Keith Thomas, Nafis White, Andrew Wilson, and Nadia Wolff.
ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE
“A Litany” is a sculpture and a performance between artist and model, wherein the artist will cornrow and weave a braided / woven basket structure onto the model’s crown. The model will wear a garment constructed from silkscreened fabrics, the patterns of which the artist has developed. These patterns feature Haitian Vodou religious motifs, illustrations of hair braiding, beauty supply flyer text and products, and barber shop charts. The patterns’ compositions are inspired by the long tradition of “vine structure” patterns which utilize imagery from nature, particularly foliage, to create dense visual surfaces. Referencing the Egungun masquerade tradition, this garment riffs off of the traditional beauty salon/barbershop cape on a grander scale, as the size of the garment drapes expansively, and overwhelms the floor surrounding both artist and model. When the piece is not activated in performance, the garment is to remain draped over a salon chair.
“A Litany” considers the link between the hand and the body; of the politics of labor within craft and adornment, meditating on the action of braiding as a particularly potent moment of Black intimacy often experienced and performed between femmes, mothers and daughters, that is viscerally queer in its eroticness. In combining basket weaving with hair braiding, “A Litany” illustrates connections between these frequently gendered modes of work. Initially inspired by the practice of women and children piling materials high upon their crown in order to transport items, this piece aligns imagery and textile traditions from Black diasporic– particularly Haitian and Yoruba– religious performance and art with commonplace gestures of braiding, craft making, and transport of goods.
ABOUT THE CURATOR
Anita N. Bateman is an independent curator and PhD candidate in the Art, Art History & Visual Studies department at Duke University who specializes in modern and contemporary African art and art of the African diaspora. Under the supervision of Professor Richard J. Powell, she is writing a dissertation entitled “Ethiopia in Focus: Photography, Nationalism, Diaspora, and Modernization.” In it, she examines photography of Ethiopia in the context of nationalism, Italian imperialism, and the influence of Marxism-Leninism. Conjointly, she attends to Ethiopia’s current status as a center of art and the ways in which Habesha and Oromo ethnic groups are represented in images and social media. Anita was the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs department at RISD Museum from 2017-2019, and has held positions at the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA, and at the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, NC.
ABOUT FRANKLIN STREET WORKS
Franklin Street Works is a not-for-profit contemporary art space whose mission is to manifest contemporary art in a professional and welcoming setting. Franklin Street Works aims to broaden community participation in the arts, contribute to a larger arts dialogue, and cultivate emerging artists. To date, the organization has exhibited the work of more than 350 artists, curated 30 original exhibitions, and organized approximately 150 programs, including talks, tours, and performances. Their work has received national and regional support, including two multi-year grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts as well as regional grants from Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, Connecticut Office of the Arts, New Canaan Community Foundation, among others. Exhibitions have been recognized with positive reviews in major publications such as Artforum online, Art in America online, Art Papers, The Brooklyn Rail, Huffington Post, Hyperallergic, Art New England, Modern Painters and Two Coats of Paint.
Franklin Street Works is located at 41 Franklin Street in downtown Stamford, Connecticut. Visit our website for more on directions and parking.