“Split Ends” features accessories and garments made of hair and exploring the use of natural human waste as material. Amused by my classmates’ initial reactions of disgust when first I brought a lock of human hair to school to experiment with, I began to question why they instinctively reject materializing our own bodies when humanity has been using other species as material since our evolution into sapience. Why is it that we love to stroke our hair when it is attached to our own heads, yet the moment a strand falls out or we have to pick it up from the drains of our showers, we find it somewhat nauseating? Is it the visual experience of seeing our bodies impermanence? Or is it the instinctual desire to reject our mortality? Taking a less morbid approach, The Split Ends project addresses people of various race’s relationships with their own hair, derived from their cultural and environmental standards of beauty.
To inform my textile development process in a culturally conscious manner, I set out to learn more about the hair industry and its kaleidoscopic professionals and patrons. In the process of obtaining hair through contacting local barbershops and hair salons in New York, I befriended barber and photographer Jeff Bucholz, with whom I collaborated with to create a documentary of this year long project. I interviewed hair stylists from the Bushwick Hairrari Salon, where Jeff works, who could explain to me the limitations of the material I was working with, and the various properties of different types of hair.
The feedback I received from the Bushwick Hairarri Salon informed me that the hair on the opposite sides of the spectrum based on curliness and texture, sits Black and East Asian hair; Black being categorized as higher levels of curl, shape retention, and texture, while East Asian hair being associated with heavy and straight. I then found salons in communities where the respective races were dominant and found salons willing the partner with me on this project. When investigating potential salons and speaking with their respective patrons I quickly came to understand how different cultures have meaningful relationships with hair. Thus, whilst contacting salons in areas predominantly populated by Black communities, I met Mila Prest who inspired me down the road of research deeper into the hair industry.
Today, hair is the only type of common bodily residue that we utilize at scale through in the form of wigs, extensions and weaves.However, the sourcing of this material can be grossly immoral and corrupt. Through watching the documentary “Good Hair” directed by Chris Rock, I delved deeper into the dark truth behind the unethical practices in hair sourcing. Simply put, women in countries such as India are shaving off their hair in religious ceremonies and unbeknownst to them, it is being collected by middlemen that are profiting off it. According to the documentary, the highest demand is in America where mostly women are purchasing wigs for as much as $2,000. This heavy information threw me off track as I began to question the ethics of what I was doing. Was I also participating in this immoral system of hair collection by getting the salon’s permission, but not the clients?
After reflection, I designed a new system in which I would only use hair donated from the person directly with the full understanding that I would be using their hair to make products. One of the donors, Rafael, even came by my studio and allowed me to shave his head myself. This consensual hair donation further allowed for me to know exactly whose head the hair was coming from, creating a more personalized and human-based process that heightens the intimate ethos I seek to create in each piece.
To test the limitations of hair as a textile, I explored several different techniques. The first technique was to use clear PVC and create a quilt by putting the hair, as well as long braided hair, inside. I created what I called “hair panels” by using clear liquid glue and mixing hair it together, spreading it out, waiting for it to dry and then peeling it off. To distract from the nature of an off-putting material and transform it to look more visually pleasingly, I used acrylic and spray paint to add bright colors to help viewers focus on the texture.