#portraitoftheartist is a feature in which artists discuss their work, their careers and their inspiration. In this, the second of a two part instalment, Biba Nalumoso shows us how she expresses her experience of race in her art.
It was during my foundation year of art school that I began to raise my voice about the issues of race, gender and my dual heritage within my work. So, in 2013, I created an art installation entitled ‘Exotic Creature’. It was made out of over £80 worth of hair weave that I had hung from the ceiling down to the floor trailing into a bucket of bleach. The piece was accompanied by a half hour video of me and my sister talking about some of the issues we have faced when our ethnicity has been put into question.
For me, hair is a huge symbol of the struggle that exists today within race relations and so it only made sense to create a piece built completely around it. I wanted it to dominate the space in which it was shown. It was important for me that if people wanted to move through the exhibition, they would actually have to awkwardly navigate round this object in their path. They would have to confront it.
Big, lovely, kinky, untameable, afro hair gets the same treatment as conversations about race. People don’t want to deal with it, are intimidated by it, and think it would be more ‘manageable’ if it was concealed (i.e. kept under weaves or chemically relaxed into oblivion). As a female artist, openness in conversations about this is something I want to encourage, and hair is still a strong theme in my work today. I’ve still got the mass of hair I used for this piece, and I add to it every now and then. My intention is to one day fill a whole gallery space with it, but it’s still early days in my life as an artist.
Last year I decided to completely shave my head, partly out of a desire for change and partly as a social experiment, out of sheer curiosity as to how I would get treated. People’s reactions were amazing. I had gone from everyone loving and being drawn to my big Afro to people asking – oh my God, why would you do that? I chose to get rid of my main attraction, the ‘thing I was known for’ if you like?
However, I would say cutting my hair off was one of the most liberating things I, as a mixed race woman, have ever done. Perhaps to the surprise of these ignorant individuals, cutting off my hair did not at the same time cut through my identity as black and female. In reality, the only thing it cut off was people’s incessant and intrusive desire to touch my head.
Biba considers herself a bit of a magpie as she is drawn to all things shiny – jewellery, glitter you name it, she likes it. Maybe that is why she is a sucker for ‘Rupauls Drag Race,’ a reality TV competition for glitzy drag queens. Rupaul’s pearls (of wisdom) are not just to be worn though: ‘cos if you can’t love yourself how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?!’ Pearls indeed.
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