Campus Life

Hair Exhibition: ‘Africa’s hair to stay’



Art, diversity and individuality are being celebrated through one thing we all have: hair. Photographs and different tools used to style hair were on display at the Wits Arts Museum (WAM) on Tuesday night during the opening of a new exhibition, entitled Doing Hair: Art and Hair in Africa.

“It’s an exhibition that celebrates…hair and art, and we’re specifically looking at artworks and art objects from South Africa and from the African continent,” said WAM marketing coordinator Jessica Foli.

“We really wanted to highlight those specific aspects and elements and also celebrate hair in all its different shapes, forms and sizes.”

Winners and entries of this year’s transformation photography competition, run by the Wits Transformation Office as part of the “Identity Through Hair” project, had their photographs displayed as part of the exhibition. With nearly 50 hairstyling salons in Braamfontein, WAM wanted to make an effort to involve students, stylists and the public by including the works in the competition. The winners were announced on the 12th of August at the John Moffat Building.

The exhibition, put together by WAM in partnership with cosmetics company Black Like Me, is aimed at bringing people in Africa and South Africa of different cultures together through the identity of people’s hair.

“Our partnership with Wits Arts Museum, especially this exhibition, is about bringing the community together, the students, the Braamfontein community and the Johannesburg community at large,” said co-founder of Black Like Me Connie Mashaba. “Hair is very central to our expression of identity, which communicates our age, culture, religious affiliation and…social status.”

Visitors could stop by a “4 minute hairstyles” booth, where stylists from Tanaz Hair, Body & Nails in Illovo put feathers and streaks of blue, green and pink in their hair. Tial Freeman from Tanaz said they wanted to give people the experience of getting their hair done in a “funky and fun” way.

Blogger Milisuthando Bongela, better known as Miss Milli B, expressed her pride in her African appearance. “My hair grows up, not down. Why do I want to chemically straighten my hair just so that I can look cute for two weeks?” Bongela linked the way women – specifically black women – wear and style their hair with oppression of who they really are so that they can “be taken seriously”.

She further said, “the struggle for mental liberation from slavery and apartheid needs to continue in spaces like this.  We need to expand on the examination of African hair and examine our modern cultural practices.”

Foli also stated that the exhibition, which will be on display until November 2, is a fun way of letting people know that the museum space is accessible and free. “Everyone can relate. Hair is something we all have, we all struggle with.”


By Thabile Manala