Installation view: Museum of Wisconsin Art Uncommon Adornments exhibition, 2011.
As a young girl growing up in the fifties, I was often embarrassed to emerge from the kitchen before my mother pressed my nappy hair after washing. Pre-1960s black-is-beautiful standards, required that hair be “tamed” before presenting oneself in public. This works deals with the wrestling many black women have been through to thrive in the Diaspora with their inherent cultural aesthetics healthy and intact.
The form and conceptual basis of this piece plays with language: that of turn-of-the-century parlor furniture, which the form references, and African American vernacular included in the title. The cabinet, veneered in African mahogany with silver inlay and embellishments, opens to reveal a mirrored interior, which is symbolic of both self-reflection and how the viewer sees themselves in relationship to beauty.
The “kitchen” has both literal and symbolic meaning. Literally, it refers to the kitchen as a functional part of the home and domestic site where in a certain time black women gathered to share community and to do their hair. In African American vernacular, it also refers to the back of the neck where you find the nappiest part of the hair and is the hardest area to keep straightened. The long nappy hair that is emerging out of the top of the cabinet claims its place in the parlor–a place of social reckoning and spectacle in 19th and early 20th–century social domestic space.