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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Nadia Meadows gets to the roots of Black hair oppression
Creative earns residency at Goodyear Arts
 
Published Monday, July 5, 2021 8:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

COURTESY PHOTO
Nadia Meadows is on a three-week residency at Goodyear Arts.

Nadia Meadows uses art to address her frustration with how society treats Black hair.


The 2020 UNC Charlotte graduate who earned a bachelor’s in fine arts in sculpture is amid a three-week residency at Goodyear Arts for “Subtle Oppression,” which began as Meadows’ thesis at UNCC. The residency is a collaboration between the university’s department of Art & Art History and Goodyear Arts, and designed to give recent graduates an opportunity to network while providing studio space to take a deep dive into their craft.


Meadows is one of two UNCC alumni participating in the summer residency and was selected through a competitive process.


“Subtle Oppression” features a series of natural braiding hair and twists, which are mounted on felt 2-foot-by-3-foot panels and bonded with black glue. Panels consist of symbols representing Black culture and history. Historical elements include Underground Railroad patterns such as the “Shoofly” and “Crossroad,” which were styled into women’s hair and offered messages of safety. Meadows also created her own symbols to illustrate contemporary struggles faced by the Black community.


A house represents gentrification in Black neighborhoods and the socioeconomic disadvantages these communities face. A work jacket reflects the pressure Black women feel to conform their hair to the Eurocentric style to feel work appropriate.


“The project started because I was frustrated with people talking about my hair and/or commenting on it, touching it and just feeling like it wasn’t as important as other things,” Meadows said.


Meadows placed the panels at the front of the gallery to force the visitor to subtly, or directly, face the conversations. She wants viewers to have an opinion about the symbols, while also forcing them to walk on them, thus participating in subtle oppression.


“When you walk in, you can’t avoid it,” Meadows said. “You have to confront it, which in many Black issues, people try to divert or try to go around the topic. This puts it in a place where you cannot avoid it.”


Walking on art may make people uncomfortable. Walking on art made from hair may increase the discomfort and forces the viewer to partake in symbolic oppression may be very disconcerting for some. Meadows said the goal is to create what she described as “in your face” art.


“Walking on art in an art space is not the typical thing,” Meadows said.


“Subtle Oppression” confuses some people who don’t realize they are walking on human hair, yet it is the only way to enter or exit the gallery space. Upon entry, viewers see the artist statement. It provides two experiences for some, the entry and the exit.


“You have another experience if you didn’t realize it is hair, if you did not realize at first, and/or, the textures and the meanings, because it has some underlying meanings,” Meadows said. “The second look is a longer, more studied look for the viewer.”


Meadows’ work will be included in “Break the Mold: New Takes on Traditional Art Making” at the Mint Museum Randolph, which opens Dec. 23. The group show will be curated by chief curator Jennifer Sudul Edwards.


Meadows hopes to create as many panels as possible during her residency. The original project consists of 13 panels of hair she bought from a beauty supply store, using five bags per panel. Her goal is to create 50 to 80 panels in time for the show.


“Subtle Oppression” is the third part in a series about hair. The first, “Lines of Control,” includes a 14-foot hot comb. It reflects her frustration with the discussion on what is an acceptable hair texture or curl pattern as well as a hot comb burning the scalp and damaging hair.


“Split Ends” is the second part in the series, featuring a giant strand of hair and the aftermath of hot comb usage.

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