Raise your hand if you’ve ever walked into a market place and a salon attendant has proclaimed that they can fix your hair. That there truly must be something wrong with your tresses and they are the ones to whip your strands into shape? For many African women, it’s a shared reality. Partly because we’re just beginning to shed Eurocentric standards of beauty as our standard measurement. We’re finally in a space where Afro-textured hair can be openly celebrated and isn’t considered a source of discomfiture or anguish. Projects such as Salooni are an expression of these shifting perceptions.
Salooni was created by a group of four Ugandan artists and friends, namely:
- Aida Mbowa – Apart from being a filmmaker, she is also a theatre director and curator.
- Darlyne Komukama – The photographer of the group, her work is mainly centred on the bodies of Ugandan women.
- Gloria Wavamunno – A fashion designer who is also the founder of the Uganda Fashion Council. Additionally, she is the director of Kampala Fashion Week.
- Kampire Bahana – A multidisciplinary artist, she has the titles of writer, arts organizer and DJ on her resume.
The concept of the project was to provide a safe space where black women could love their natural hair just as it is. To be in an environment where their hair was celebrated and not ridiculed as inferior or in need of much assistance. The pop-up installation would be a safe haven that would help women to learn more about their manes. Drawing from traditional and contemporary trends, it would guide women on how to take care of their afro-textured hair with love. In addition, to incorporate the meaning African women used to associate with their hair. Whether it’s communicating societal status via hair style or growing relationships through the hair maintenance process.
But most importantly, the project wanted to create a platform for women to freely express their hair without being defined or limited to a specific set of rules. It would be having the space to express it, no matter what the end result would look like. According to an article by LSN Global, ‘The space [hosted] silent and spoken theatrical performances, and [showcased] a series of short films that celebrate the science, culture and art of black hair.’
You may ask why they chose the salon setting as their overall theme for their pop-ups. The four ladies wanted a familiar location that could resonate with a variety of audience members. With salon visits being a fixture in most women’s lives, it would be a point where every woman, despite their background, could easily identify with. Interestingly, the project wasn’t just open to afro and natural textures. According to Aida and Kampire, all hair was welcome to take part in the project. The idea, which started in Kampala, went forward to be exhibited in other African countries such as the Chale Wote Festival in Ghana, as well as festivals in Rwanda and Burkina Faso.
Photographically, the project had the women select styles that were imagined through time. The aim was to glorify styles that weren’t in the scope of Caucasian beauty standards. They did so through viewable work, as well as, free consultations with professional hair stylists versed with afro-texture knowledge. As Bahana mentioned in an interview with Qz, “Salooni’s goal is to treat African hair as a science, culture, and art— a “site of knowledge” to study everything from fractals, patterns that repeat at varying scales in African hairstyles.”
As a professional African hair stylists, you’ll be part of the conversation creators. There is always the question of how you’ll contribute to reversing the years of systemic oppression that women have faced concerning their hair. Granted, you’re expressing your creative edge through your work, but how will you add to the narrative of hope and self-acceptance? Although we are seeing a mass shift on how people perceive ‘good hair’, there is still a lot of work to be done to change how black women view what is considered beautiful hair. How will your work contribute to giving back our hair the respect it deserves?