Wearing My CROWN, an exhibition in the first-floor hallway of Lied Library, is a celebration of the beauty, strength, and versatility of textured hair. The works featured were created and curated in response to the C.R.O.W.N. Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), which ensures protection against race-based discrimination in school and the workplace based on natural hairstyles.
Recognizing the intrinsic power and authentic beauty of natural hairstyles, the exhibition seeks to showcase a new understanding of “professional” appropriate hair. Featured are the works of students and alumni Tabiya Conyers, Chantal Chandler, Zahra Bilal, Khivani Young, and Q’shaundra James.
Here, Chandler shares the story behind her multimedia work.
My Damaged Hair
Who are you without your hair? Are you still beautiful without it? Are you your hair? These were some of the questions I asked myself one morning as I looked in the bathroom mirror at my dry brittle hair that was damaged from getting a relaxer and a few retouches within a year’s time. It had been over 20 years since I last had a relaxer. I thought maybe this time it'd make my hair more manageable instead of puffy and frizzy from sweating as I taught my on-campus Zumba class. Nope! My hair was breaking off, cracking like sticks underfoot in a forest and getting shorter by the day.
I am a person of mixed ethnicity (my mom is Black and American Indian and my dad is Mexican and American Indian). My hair, although curly, is considered somewhere between “white” straight hair and “Black” coarse hair. As a child I was not included in any race groups. The lack of acceptance caused me to create a culture within myself – a seeming world of one.
When I would go to different hair salons, the hairdressers, black or white, did not know how to do my hair. I had to figure out how to do it all on my own. In third grade, that meant putting my head under the bathtub faucet, saturating my hair with cold water (hot water made it frizzier), putting it in a high ponytail on top of my head, flipping it up, and swiftly running to the bus stop to go to school while droplets of water fell like rain from my dark brown curly strands onto my shoulders.
Make Way for Baldy!
Examining my hair in the mirror, frustrated at the damage, I reminisced about the time I shaved my head 10 years ago and how free I felt. I had also been dealing with immense grief from my partner, high school sweetheart, and father of my three-year-old son unexpectedly passing away. Upon hearing the news my heart had fallen swiftly to the ground as if a ton of bricks crushed it to fine dust, only then to be swept away by a violent tsunami. The combination of my damaged hair and now an unexpected death made me feel like my hair was my nemesis. An exoskeleton of sorts, like a cicada with nymph skin that had not quite shed. What would happen if I just shaved it all off? I asked myself.
Coping with grief I had thrown myself into my photography, art, and writing. For a photography assignment, I decided that I was going to document myself shaving my head. No more than a few days later, my photography professor, Cara Cole, invited me to join an exhibition about the C.R.O.W.N. Act. All that I planned for my assignment beautifully manifested far beyond the silent prayers and thoughts I had in mind.
I met with an absolutely wonderful team — professional curator, art instructor, and director of art & culture for MGM Resorts International Demecina Beehn and Aaron Mayes, the visual materials curator in Special Collections in the Lied Library — to walk my exhibition partner Tabiya Conyers and myself through it.
Since Tabiya and I both come from mixed ethnicities, we related to each other on a deeper level to this project. We found models who embodied the true meaning of the C.R.O.W.N. act, did a piece together, and did our own individual pieces, mine being my performative art piece, a short, silent, black and white, 4K documentary video of me shaving my head, entitled Crown Freedom.
Knowing that I am part of celebrating something that is changing the shape of our nation and the hearts of its people is astounding. Most importantly this project has empowered me to accept myself and my hair more than ever before. Hair or no hair, I wear my crown proudly in a world of many.