Sudbury artists celebrate Black hair with new photo series
'Black people have been told their hair is unprofessional, been told it's unsightly ... ugly even'
A group of artists in Sudbury is hoping a new photo series will help shed some light on the topic of Black hair.
The collaboration, involving four local youth, is part of the Up Here Festival's summer programming and will be shown at Kuppajo's Espresso Bar in downtown Sudbury over the next couple of weeks.
Ra'anaa Brown, the festival's guest curator and one of the models photographed for the series, says the recent momentum gained by the Black Lives Matter movement gave the group the courage to tackle the contentious topic.
"Black Lives Matter is really creating this platform where Black lives matter, Black bodies matter, Black imagery, Black identity and all of these things matter," Brown said.
"Across history and time, Black people have been told their hair is unprofessional, been told it's unsightly ... ugly even. So it's something we really wanted to address."
'It is beautiful in its own right'
For more than a decade, Brown says she's had to navigate unwanted attention directed at her dreadlocks. She says this can be difficult to balance the pride she has for her hair and the shame she feels when people make errant comments about it.
"We want to normalize Black hair," she said, "While it is different, it is beautiful in its own right."
Black hair is this beautiful thing that doesn't have to be changed because it is the way it's intended to be.— Ra'anaa Brown, artist
Art in it's varied mediums, is a huge part of Brown's personal activism.
"Art is this universal language, so how can we use art to convey a message that everyone can understand?"
Brown says the group wanted to use nature to help express the innate beauty of Black hair.
"It's this idea that Black hair is this beautiful thing that doesn't have to be changed because it is the way it's intended to be. Just like nature, it's this beautiful, natural thing that just grows the way it grows. And that's the way it's meant to be," she said.
A 'counter narrative'
Isak Vaillancourt, the photographer behind the project, has also experienced uncomfortable moments relating to his Black hair.
"People would often criticize my hair or comment on my hair or want to touch my hair," he said.
Vaillancourt said finding positive or accurate representation of Black people and their experiences with hair is often hard to come by.
"With this photo installation, we almost wanted to present this counter narrative," Vaillancourt said.
The photo series will be shown at Kuppajo's Espresso Bar beginning August 24.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.