Saturday 15 November 2014

Idahor's Hairvolution sets out to preserve memory

By Tajudeen Sowole
In her research of a peculiar hair feature, traced to her family tree of three generations, young artist, Taiye Idahor distills the value of memory from a first solo art exhibition titled Hairvolution, currently showing at Whitespace Gallery, Ikoyi Lagos.

From Taiye Idahor's Hairvoution
The question about the texture of Idahor's natural wavy hair has haunted her from childhood. 'Is this your hair?' The recurring question, she recalls, has set her on a journey in search of the family tree that spans three generations back, Idahor tells her only guest on a quiet mid-day devoid of visitors inside the gallery.

A set of 12 painterly small pieces of self-portrait on tracing papers titled Shut Cut and other similar ones as photo collage glassed under Odowa depict diverse forms of unusual hairstyles. The commonality in the two sets of works is the braiding or woven forms on the heads. But a supposedly bust, nearly covered in braided newsprint, representing a theatrical hairy head that spills onto the floor in an installation pattern, explains the depth of the hairy theme of the show.

Still a hairy gathering of a body of work, the canvas section of the moderate Whitespace Gallery picks the curls where the installation stops. Collaged on a mix of acrylic and print cut-out figures, the hairy braids keep sprouting out of the scalps in such series as That's What They Said (1-4) and Finding Ayie (1-4). And while a three heads of standing hair titled Taking Turns To See makes the hairs upright, the next work, Kindred-ship, also on canvas links three heads in a surreal form.

But in Idahor's visual narrative of memories of an unknown generation, one name, 'Ayie' keeps surfacing. Who is Ayie ? "My paternal grandmother whose identity has remained elusive," Idahor says helplessly. She recalls how her curiosity that led to the search "started with a series of meetings and conversations with my father and mother asking questions about Ayie, my paternal grandmother."

Was the mystery grandmother borne of mixed parents and her DNA germinated in Idahor two generations after? "She was a Caucasian, and my father never knew her," the artist, a native of Benin, Edo State, clarifies. "My hair characteristics seem to have originated from my paternal grandmother."

Idahor, a twin, says, "My twin sister, Kehinde and dad do not have the wavy hair." But she has a spiritual explanation. "I guess reincarnation comes in her."

For the exhibition, it goes beyond the search for Ayie. Documenting "memory is the focus for me, not hair really."

Over the last one decade, most artists who proclaim contemporaneity appear to be expressing little and feeble visual contents, but noisy in the so-called 'new' material. But in presenting an ancestral trajectory of her wavy natural hair, Idahor differs by bringing onto the traditional canvas a modest application of material to achieve an incendiary of sincere visual contents and value in an era when some artists are hiding under contemporary practice to blur genuine creativity.

For Idahor, her choice of the newsprint goes with the fragility and fears of losing memory, as she says, "Since I am exploring memory, which is fragile, hence the newsprint and jet ink."
The link, she explains is "the same fragile fear I have for memory that I do for newsprint."

She, however, warns, "Movement from one place to another should no longer be the reason for disappearing history as is the case with Ayie."

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