hair aesthetics politics braid work

“BRAID/WORK” a collaborative art project between professional hair braider Fatima Traore and visual artist Sarah Beth Woods that investigates the transcultural histories and aesthetics of hair braiding, is on exhibit in Bethel College’s Regier Art Gallery through Nov. 23. 

The material components of the work bridge cross-cultural conversations about their disparate backgrounds and practices. Woods and Traore received the 2015-16 Crossing Boundaries Prize through Arts+Public Life & Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago.

The show is a combination of photographs and sculptures made of synthetic hair and other materials.”

Woods is a Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist whose background as a painter and critical cultural worker has led to an interest in the aesthetics and political implications of modern surfaces and the body, specifically skin and hair, saturated color and shine.

Cultural influences derived from formative years Woods spent on the Southwest side of Chicago continue to manifest in the content and aesthetics of her work, specifically black material culture and women’s conceptual spaces as sites of possibility and transformation.

Woods earned her BFA at Northern Illinois University and MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her work has been included in many U.S. and international exhibitions.

Newcity magazine named her one of the Top 5 “Subversively Conceptual Crafters” in Chicago in 2014. Woods is a 2017 3arts 3AP awardee, which supports Hear the Glow of Electric Lights, a film project investigating 1960s American music groups featuring teenage girls and young women.

Woods will be on campus Nov. 21-23 at the same time as Bethel’s 5th biennial Worship and the Arts Symposium. 

“Since the W&A symposium is explicitly positioned this year as connecting across cultures, I thought of Sarah Beth Woods as someone whose work does just that,” said Rachel Epp Buller, Bethel associate professor of visual art and design. 

She will give an artist talk Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center as a pre-symposium event, followed by a reception at the gallery.

Nov. 22, Woods and professional hair braider Cleo Sugg, who are traveling together from Chicago, will meet with art history students to discuss an article by Kobena Mercer on the politics of hair.

Woods will give a presentation to symposium registrants on Nov. 23, and then she and Sugg will be in the gallery during the day to do hair braiding.

“I'm excited for Sarah and Cleo to connect with students as well as community members,” said Epp Buller, “as we think together about standards and expectations of beauty and representation across cultures.”

Regular Regier Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. There is no admission charge.

To see a complete schedule for the 5th biennial Worship and the Arts Symposium, and to register online, visit bethelks.edu/worshiparts, or call Greta Hiebert at 316-284-5250. A fee discount is available for three or more registrants from the same congregation.

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