‘Hair as Praxis:’ Kai continues conversation by sharing art with Kent State


Matthew Brown

Nneka Kai comes to Kent State to give a guest lecture about her artwork on Jan. 20.

Danielle Stehle, Reporter

Kent State’s Center for Visual Arts invited guest speaker Nneka Kai for its First Friday Art Lecture series Jan. 20. Kai created a place to not only showcase her work, but to discuss the importance of black culture and how the conversation around it continues.

Nneka Kai is an interdisciplinary artist and independent researcher who focuses on textiles by using the material of hair to create her work through abstraction in the field of contemporary art. During the First Friday Lecture, she explained what her work “Hair as Praxis” means.

“‘Hair as Praxis’ is thinking of hair not just as theory, but for me, this practice is theory implemented in real-time,” Kai said.

Kai continued with how hair is a “fluid, ever-changing and evolving” idea. It is a “way of thinking of blackness.” She presented this idea with intimacy through her works. Such examples include “Mama’s Vessel” and “Mama’s Cornrow”.

Not only has Kai explored the contemporary world to start the conversation of identity, but other well-known black artists such as Lorna Simpson and Sonya Clark have explored it for many years.

“We are still speaking the same language,” Kai said. “It’s about identity and understanding the black feminine body that drives us. It’s what keeps the conversation going into the future.”

Assistant art professor John Paul Morabito also noticed Kai’s work and what she has portrayed.

“She is under the next generation Sonya Clark,” Morabito said. “She is making space for the culture [as] Black art within the Black community has always been shifting and has been vital.”

When police brutality became more visible to the public in 2020, Kai wanted to make a statement and a contribution to the fight

Guest lecturer Nneka Kai speaks to the gathered audience about her works featuring braided hair on Jan. 20. (Matthew Brown)

against it. That is when the performance, “Ode I: In the Thick of it,” was born.

Kai performed an interpretive act in a field where buildings were placed before being knocked down in Atlanta, Georgia. This performance was a “radical act to show love.”

“History continues to fail us,” Kai said. By using fiction, Kai wanted to help “reimagine the future” for all of society.

Her work creates a more personable connection with the audience to allow “dialogue, questions and intellectual conversations.” One student who had been particularly impacted was sophomore zoology major Olivia Newsom.

“When we share our cultures with each other, we get to know about each other and where we came from,” Newsom said. “This helps us develop new traditions, new ideals and creates a sense of community.”

Kai plans to continue the conversation about black culture and dive deeper into the understanding of hair by working to “evoke action behind it” because “everyone is connected to hair.”

“I am an artist,” Kai said. “I’ll be making [art] forever. I don’t bound myself. I am free.”

Danielle Stehle is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].