When men from the Wolof tribe in modern Senegal and The Gambia waged war they wore a braided style to indicate their preparation for battle. A woman mourning in Nigeria will either have to cut her hair or adopt a subdued style to reflect her current predicament. Hairstyles indicate status and identities across Africa. In early African civilisations, hairstyles can indicate a person’s family background, tribe and status in society. Hair has always been used to make statements that reflect social changes and also as a form of protest.
Re-examining the average African childhood with new discernments revealed a problematical antiquity. At every assembly ground, students were punished if they did not shave their heads, guys and even girls were asked to do so as a sign of humility and attitude to proper learning as hair was seen as a distraction to their education. It was not without reason. When colonial education began in Africa most of the free schools run by missionaries fabricated all sorts of narrative about our hair and for it, artistic hairstyles as a form of expression were banned in schools and even in the church where freedom and acceptance were preached. The media also had a part to play in all the trickeries. By enforcing these rubrics, the missionaries were able to politicize black hair and make it a tool of control and chastisement in a way that was new to Africans and their intricate tradition. Such historical understanding exposed the partisan significance hair carried and then it boiled down to specificities such as race, gender and sexuality. Everywhere today these concepts are reinforced and represented, daily, the afro is particularly interpreted as a statement of resistance to white supremacy, dreadlocks has its stereotypes related to crime and drug dealing and even curly hair. It is satirical that in the world we live in today wearing your hair the way it grows as an African is considered a stance, destructive ethnic and communal connotations attached to the natural hair of black people is now a norm.
How important is black hair?
In Africa, hair is related to deep spirituality; the longer the better. It is known that Africans born with great hair or dreadlocks are regarded as special people, seen as a blessing from the gods and can end up being seers or prophets, even artists. In a heart-to-heart with a Rastafarian about why he had to cut his hair; his response was: My mama died so I have to cut it to show respect to her soul, you know, it’s something to do cut your hair for someone you love, for grief, you start afresh. When it is deliberate the cutting of Black hair can be symbolic, in truth it is rebirth and reformation, a sort of baptism of the soul to purge out what is old and usher in what is new because like most transition it comes with a lot of confusion, pain.
A man was drowning on February 3rd, 2018, an artist, and because of it, he cut his hair.
Sel Kofiga is a Ghanaian visual artist and colourist who lives and works in Accra. His work questions societal, cultural and religious indifferences through abstraction and contemporary expressions. He is also relatively famous for controversial monochromic visual imagery with people and places which address social abuse, gender inequality, sexism, sexual orientation, antipathy, illiberality and class struggle.
Sel Kofiga cut his hair to symbolize identity, repression and self-expression as an artist struggling to process emotional breakdowns. He explores in his new artistic development the “Coloracter Series” the characteristics of the Black male.
Coloracter is a painting, visual and photography body of work directed and edited by Sel Kofiga and Ngminvielu Kuuire. Their synergy seeks to explore three different folds.
The visuals start with a melodramatic sound and speech of a female voice in the background:
“Because so many of us are hurting, and we are confused, and we are angry and we are just doing anything, we just doing anything, we just like whatever, because we are hurting and we don’t know which way to turn”
the speaker said, which represented how most people feel today and also served as an introductory reminder of the depressed and sunken place in which the artist found himself cocooned in for years, hence the continuous blinks and zoom out from his face until it finally meets with a broader and clearer reality of his identity and image.
In phase two the clip rewind back to a multi-exposed and distorted imagery of Sel Kofiga cutting his hair with a pair of scissors while “Drowning” by Mick Jenkins and Badbadnotgood played in the background. The second phase complimented the artist’s struggle of having to compulsorily let go of parts of him to embrace a new form as a means of transitioning. In this sequence, the cutting of his Sel Kofiga’s hair signified the feelings of rejection, pain from mourning his late father’s demise. Also, the anxiety, sense of emptiness, displacements, isolation and its conflicting issues reflect through.
The third and final part of the visuals is introduced by the monologue Gloria Carter shared on her coming out of the closet as a Lesbian despite having four kids:
“Living in the shadow. Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live?”
This part of the clip brings back a new image which contradicts the initial personality, here; the artist revisited his past and created a connection with his reflections, representing himself with the monologue which talked more about self-love and acceptance.
Sel Kofiga Drowning On February 3rd is an artistic concept that demonstrates the fight involved in handling emotional breakdowns, intrusive memories and the ability to let go of one’s old or previous state of being to realize a new form. It draws various knowledge bases to the narrative of unique experiences and attempts to portray the ego defence, the contrivance of repression, as-well-as other self-developed psychological practices of protecting one’s mental health.