I was recently exposed to the work of Vivian Ezugha, a young performance artist born in Nigeria and currently residing in Cardiff, Wales. I am struck by Ezugha's arresting imagery and personal narrative. Ezugha shares further insight into her current project entitled "Because of Hair" for this week's feature.
Because of Hair by Vivian Ezugha -
Hair in African culture is about definition of power. Your hair is a canvas that is used to display your position in your social setting; hair no longer becomes a material that protects our heads from the sun or the cold. It becomes a power tool, an object to display rejection or conformation. Growing up in the village (in Nigeria) having no hair marked my position as a female. The divide in class became evident because of one’s hair. Village girls were bald and looked like men, while city girls wore extensions and adorned their head with beautiful jewels. They always use to say; ‘you can see the girls that come from the village by their hair or lack of it’. Moreover, hair became a form of identification. Leaving Nigeria at the age of eight to come to the UK, I was made aware of the differences in cultures by the visible dissimilarities of children in the village and the children in the UK. The first visible difference was their hair; this experience was heightened even more when I was bullied for having no hair.
Additionally, when my mother was dying of cancer, hair was the first bodily factor to depict the deterioration of her body. Losing my mother became a turning point in the way I saw hair. For the first time I became aware of the fragility that is life and in with every hair that fell off my mother’s head came a realization of the value we place on hair. My mother became a different person when she lost her hair and the experience of seeing her hair fall marked a finale moment. Hair became the object of concealment in that moment, for I saw my mother without the cover that crowned her head for so many years.
‘Because of Hair; the dichotomy of culture and identity became the project that started the process of dealing with my experiences and analyzing the function of hair in society. I started the project while studying at university in Aberystwyth and have continued the process of developing the project since graduating in 2014. Through performance research and theoretical research I am creating a language that is unique to my experience but is universal in its subject matter hair.
In the project I explore hair as a subject and an object of concealment. Using my memories of seeing masquerades and masks in Nigeria, I created a series of masks that function as performance objects and sculptures. Within the project I try to deconstruct my memories of Nigeria as well as my experiences as a black female in the UK. I create characters that I embody in my performances. The masks for me becomes a tool of expressing that which was hidden and my movements become somewhat of a reference to the feeling in being in the moment. I use my body to create a disturbance. I challenge the notion of the black body, the black female and I use my ancestral background to formulate a presence that neither my audience nor I can deny. The masks thus become power objects. Concealing and revealing, my face is hidden but my movements become my intentions.
image and video used with permission by the artist.