Join The Courtauld for our fifth online series, ‘Open Courtauld Hour’
“It’s the difference between a good day and a bad day, hair is everything!” Fleabag, 2019
Hair is, undeniably, a defining feature of human identity, status and an apparatus to express and perform a sense of belonging. Hair can be chopped off, dyed and styled with the reassurance that it will (most likely) not cause much physical pain and that it will (hopefully) rejuvenate in time for the next fashion trend. A malleable assertion of ‘self’, hairs visual potency in art historical material can consequently style out hairs special power to inform social norms. Associated in the western canon of art history with traditional notions of beauty and fertility in women — abundant, flowing and visions of sensuous and sexually alluring hair a focal point of movements like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood — artistic representations of hair and hairstyles can also illustrate a darker side to our discipline. Embodying one type of hair as the zeitgeist of the age, the paragon and ‘beau idéal’ of female beauty, imparts the barely hidden discrimination, stigmatisation, oppression, cultural appropriation and follicular racism aggrandised through idealised ‘princess-hair’.
This Open Courtauld Hour will interrogate the assumed banality of hair in art history, its everyday presence making it the perfect vehicle to reproduce and feed into systems of control. For this conversation we will be joined by Rachael Gibson (The Hair Historian) to historicise the chignons, coiffures and cuts of the Courtauld Collection, Serena Lee (founder of Inclusive Histories) to look into her arsenal of discoveries into hair adornment, head wrapping and headscarves within the African diaspora, Kyle Ring (founder of in.hair.itance) for an in conversation that celebrates the diversity, complexity and creativity of how people of colour choose to style, decorate and care for their hair and award winning poet, Shagufta K Iqbal, who will be taking on our ‘Odalisque in an interior with a parrot’, formerly known as, ’Young Oriental woman in an interior’, by Alexandre Gabriel Decamps in her one-off poetic interpretation. The session will be rounded up by a panel discussion and Q&A where we welcome audience questions.
This online mini series will provide concise one hour packages of pop-up talks, performances and in detail object study sessions that explore and celebrate our collection, research in art history, curation and conservation.
The series will touch on pertinent issues — magnifying contemporary thinking in society through the field of art history. These episodes will explore how the public, artists and galleries are adapting to a digital world, showcasing art historical research in light of this global pandemic and providing a platform for creative practice in the age of social distancing.
Most importantly, as art is relevant to all, these informal sessions will give attendees the chance to access, engage and read art and art history through a different lens— revamping and rethinking art historical discussions through retelling hidden stories. These episodes will platform new perspectives, new ways into art practice, looking at art and reading its history through themes that impact us all.