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This Exhibition Is an Ode to Black Hair

The cosmetological is political. 


When researcher April Martin Chartrand was an undergrad at San Francisco State, a professor gave her an unlikely assignment: He wanted her to write about her hair. “I was running around with braids in my hair and saying there was nothing political about it,” Chartrand remembers. “I was just so naïve.”

The professor, Raye Richardson, founder of the legendary Marcus Books in the Fillmore, challenged Chartrand to learn more about the history surrounding black hair, from the Tignon Law of 1786—when a Louisiana governor mandated that black women cover their hair in public—to present-day discrimination against job applicants and employees for wearing braids, dreadlocks, or natural styles.

Chartrand spent the next 20 years researching, writing about, and making art that addresses issues facing people of the African diaspora—and hair remained a chief focus. Now she’s the curator of A Sacred Beautiful, an exhibition opening on August 30 at the offices of the S.F. Human Rights Commission in which artists, including photographer Nye’ Lyn Tho, re­imagine iconic natural styles. Nye’ Lyn Tho’s photo-illustrations feature heads regally resplendent with flowers and greens. “Our crowns are our hair,” Tho says. “In a lot of cultures, hair is a representation of who you are.”


Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco

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