Kent State Museum unveils new exhibition centering Black hair

Reegan Saunders Reporter

Black hair is a phenomenon left unexplored outside the Black community. The Kent State Museum’s latest exhibition, “TEXTURES: The History and Art of Black Hair,” sheds light on the complexities of the Black hair experience.


“TEXTURES” is the culmination of 20 years of research into the significance of Black hair by co-curator Tameka Ellington, an associate professor in the School of Fashion. Ellington has spent the past three years curating the exhibition with Joseph Underwood, an assistant professor of art history.


In a statement made announcing “TEXTURES,” Ellington said that in the wake of the death of George Floyd, non-Black people have said the exhibition is “timely.”


“My response is always, ‘The issues that Black people have had with their hair is more than 400 years old; society is just now catching up,’” Ellington said.


The exhibition shares the history of Black hair through three stories – Community and Memory, Hair Politics and Black Joy – and it includes an interactive component created in collaboration with the Wick Poetry Center.


Inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s “Negro Motorist Green Book,” the “Textures Digital Greenbook” is a collection of stories meant to continue educating future audiences. Museum visitors can interact with the virtual collection alongside the physical artworks.


There are over 150 items in the exhibition, including artifacts related to Madame C.J. Walker. Sophomore studio art major Maya Culley, a member of the exhibition team, was particularly drawn to these artifacts.


“I think people will be in shock,” Culley said. “There is an enormous variety of stuff in the gallery. And there are so many pieces that are just stunning.”


To continue the conversation beyond the museum exhibit, the curators have planned programming for the next year, including a virtual panel with Black barbers. They have also created a catalog of the artwork accompanied by essays, some of which were written by the curators.


“[Ellington] talks about her own hair traumas,” Underwood said. “The things that happened to her as a Black woman in America that made her realize her hair was different and that she could be discriminated for it.”


In the way each Black woman in America has her own hair journey, the artworks paint their own story.


“I think everything deserves a lot of attention,” Culley said.  “I would want people to very slowly walk through it and pay attention to what they’re looking at.”


“TEXTURES” opened Friday and will run through Aug. 7, 2022. Museum hours and ticket prices can be found through the Kent State Museum.


Reegan Saunders is a reporter. Contact them at [email protected].