My nephew is like a younger sibling. Always around, is annoying, fakes like he doesn’t look up to me. I don’t know if that is what a younger sibling would be like because I’m the youngest.
Any-who I didn’t realize until I looked around my studio that he has become my newest subject. My work typically goes through different subjects concerning black women and women of color. There is a constant dispute over natural black hair and what society says is “acceptable”, therefore I have something to say about it! I consciously change my hair throughout my paintings letting it be known that it it is part of who I am, and how wonderfully versatile it is.
Memphis is going through a phase of deciding if he wants to commit to dreads or not, so he tries to two-strand twist them into dreads, but then ends up with curls again. He gets his hair braided into cornrows occasionally, but doesn’t know if you take care of them and keep them clean they last more than 2 days. It is has become my pastime to document him doing his hair. It’s a beautiful task that is overlooked. At some extent, doing hair is a ritual for black people. On the other end, our hair is policed and we’re held to a different standard when it comes to looking “professional”.
I don’t straighten my hair anymore, I hate the so called compliments I get from it, “you look so much better with your hair straight”, “you should straighten it more often”, “who are you getting cute for?”, “wow, you really are Mexican”, “who did you steal this from?”. Actually, I don’t think that’s the reason. I’ve come to accept stupidity as normal. The real reason why I don’t is because it would take 3 hours to do on my own, or about $100 for someone else to do, and because I don’t want to spend around $80 to buy a flat iron and products to keep it from getting frizzy and dry. Yes, the real reason is I am cheap and lazy. My hair is thick and heavy, it’ll end up in a ponytail anyway. All of this to say, I find other ways to look “professional” like a nice bun where I actually try to brush back my flyaways, or a nice head wrap to hide ALL of my hair. I will make headwraps professional, too.
But back to Memphis. I don’t know what it is about black people doing their hair, even black kids doing their hair- it makes me body tense up with emotion. I think it’s joy or something. To see someone work on themselves, starting with the crown of their head. See someone take pride in their curls, coils, or kinks, makes me proud. It for sure is not seen. He’s just a boy trying to express himself through hair. So, I will paint him. In hopes that it is understood he is a child. He’s 12, his only interests are hooping, learning to rap along to the dopest raps out, sleeping, watching whatever movie just came out then giving you a verbatim summary, scene by scene, and making his hair look fly. He and his hair don’t “disrupt” the classroom, shall not be seen as unprofessional, and not classify him as dirty, or a thug.