Best Lounge

Best Lounge

Best of SA 2013: 4/24/2013
Everything but the Bowie in \'David Bowie Is\'

Everything but the Bowie in 'David Bowie Is'

Screens: People love David Bowie more than you are capable of loving your family. But that’s OK—people love Bowie to an extent that your family would quite frankly... By Jeremy Martin 9/17/2014
Beaches Be Trippin\': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Beaches Be Trippin': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Arts & Culture: Let’s face it, most of us Lone Stars view the Texas coast as a poor man’s Waikiki. Hell, maybe just a poor man’s Panama Beach — only to be used... By Callie Enlow 7/10/2013
Our Picks for the 31st Annual Jazz’SAlive

Our Picks for the 31st Annual Jazz’SAlive

Music: Eddie Palmieri: 9:30pm Saturday. Jazz’SAlive has traditionally made sure to clear at least one headlining space for Latin jazz... By J.D. Swerzenski 9/17/2014
Lt. Governor Race: the \'Luchadora\' vs. the Tea Party radio host

Lt. Governor Race: the 'Luchadora' vs. the Tea Party radio host

News: A few Saturdays ago, I spent several hours hanging around a Texas Realtors Association conference in San Antonio, trying to catch state Sen. Dan Patrick... By Alexa Garcia-Ditta 9/17/2014

Search hundreds of restaurants in our database.

Search hundreds of clubs in our database.

Follow us on Instagram @sacurrent

Print Email

Arts & Culture

Clark weaves African-American DNA into Confederate 'Black Hair Flag'

Photo: Jung-hee Mun, License: N/A, Created: 2011:12:08 07:13:53

Jung-hee Mun

Installation view of Sonya Clark solo show at Southwest School of Arts. Foreground, Lawn. Madam CJ Walker in background; Barbershop Pole on right.

There is nothing more common than a haircut. Curly, straight, or woven in braids, the way we wear the fibers that sprout from our heads tells the world who we are; more than social signifier, it's sculptural material, too. “Hairdressers are by every indication artists. Absolutely,” Sonya Clark told the Current. “Their art has agency — it walks around, you don't have to go to a gallery to see it. In my next life I would like to come back as a hairdresser.”

Clark's solo show at the Southwest School of Art fixates on hair, especially dense African hair. Using overlays and transformations, she tells stories that are uniquely American. In Black Hair Flag, the battle flag of the Confederacy is sewn through with black fibers; cornrows make the stripes, Bantu knots form the stars of the Stars and Stripes. The hybrid design that emerges asserts the presence of black people in the making of American modernity. Another piece placed nearby in the exhibition, Cornrow Chair, also uses the cornrow motif. Clark has taken a wooden armchair of awkward proportions, which she describes as “a collection of decorative and functional parts.” Underneath and behind the seat are rows of running braids. Invisible from the front, the cornrows speak of the labor that black hands brought to this country — largely invisible, or unacknowledged by those in the seat of power. “You could sit on the chair and be blissfully unaware of the back forty,” said Clark.

Clark refers to African hair through deft interweavings of thread in many of her works. She also uses her own hair, and that of her friends and her mother, as elements in her pieces, bringing more than design — but actual DNA — to her art.

Other works address the art of hairdressing as an example of craftwork, of transformation. They reveal that aesthetic judgments are transient, but never without social consequences.

Barbershop Pole is a sleek stylized version of its namesake. Nearby is Madam CJ Walker, a large wall-covering depiction of Sarah Breedlove McWilliams, aka Madam Walker, who became the first African-American millionaire through the sale of hair care products that helped women straighten their “bad” hair into “good” hair. Like Lawn, a rolling horizontal piece set in the center of the exhibition, the three pieces are made of hundreds of the fine-toothed combs that were once ubiquitous in the back pockets of men of a certain age. Men with straight, fine hair.

Big, fluffy afros cover Abe Lincoln's head on a five-dollar bill. A series of fivers show the 'fro growing larger and larger still. Yes, it's funny in a slapstick way; but it's also a comment on the need for minstrelsy. “Why does Abe with an afro get a laugh, but the image of a black woman with straightened hair is not funny; it's just acceptable?” Clark asked. “When Donald Trump wears an afro to the boardroom and no one thinks it's funny — then we'll know the playing field has been leveled. But I don't think it's going to happen in my lifetime.” 

Clark, currently the chair of the Department of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, has received the Pollack-Krasner grant and support from the Smithsonian and the Rockefeller foundations to pursue her work. Last year she was designated a United States Artist Fellow.

Free; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat; 11am-4pm Sun; Russel Hill Rogers Gallery 1, Navarro Campus, 1201 Navarro, (210) 224-1848, On view to Feb 12.

We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
comments powered by Disqus