In Kelly Stoos’ 9th and 10th grade drawing class, the students pondered the social, political, and self-identifying qualities of hair. By reviewing movie clips, such as Hair, the musical, and Spike Lee’s School Daze, focusing on artists who use hair strategically–like Charles White and Lorna Simpson–and discussing ideas about hair in their own cultures, the students began to see hair not only as a part of the body, but also, and equally important, as a political statement, as a cultural, and as a social identifier. When doesn’t a picture of Angela Davis’ Afro stand as a statement, as the New Yorker cartoon of President Obama and his wife, in her radial 70’s Afro, fist bumping demonstrated, and provoke thought and conversation? The root of this idea started with Olivia Gude, an education professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Ms. Stoos drew heavily on her work on this subject and the Spiral Workshop for inspiration.
The students, also learning about texture and value, used conte crayon to create self-portraits of their hair. As Ms. Stoos suggested, “The assignment allowed the students to see how something as seemingly simple as hair can make important and relevant cultural, political, and individual statements. We talked about how certain hairstyles elicit responses from people, whether they be dreadlocks, an Afro, a buzz cut, a mullet, a Mohawk, or any other outstanding style. How we choose to wear our hair makes a statement, and in art, how an artist chooses to use hair also makes an important statement.”