Eyes wide open and directly comforting the viewer, mouth agape, the figure clad in black hair accented with colored plastic hairpins conveys shock, even horror. The pale pink background tames the frenzy and brings us back to her exaggerated Afrocentric nose and hot pink hair clips that stand out from the quintessential 1980s color palette.
Rhitta Gawr (2022) by Anya Paintsil refers to the Welsh giant who slew kings and wore their beards as trophies before being killed by Arthur, who ordered his men to place stones on the giant’s body and form a burial mound known as Gwyddfa Rhita.
Paintsil’s elaborate compositions combine textiles and sculpture to create The portraits which evoke a painterly quality through the use of recurring facial features, human hair and an array of hair accessories. She engages in practices such as rug hooking, embroidery and tapestry making, some of which she learned from her family members.
Both visceral and intriguing, we cannot look away from these works and their complex and nuanced interwoven stories that navigate the female gaze, personal relationships and collective biases. Her work is inspired by the fact that she grew up as a person of color in a mixed-race family in North Wales and worked as a hairdresser.
A robust crowd flocked to the Hannah Traore Gallery on New York’s Lower East Side (LES) for Thursday night’s opening Evidence of their victories, a solo exhibition featuring the Welsh and Ghanaian artist. The LES has quickly transformed into a bustling arts community, with galleries on nearly every block, and Traoré stands out for its elegant use of space and lighting. The neighborhood retains a singular blend of grit and glamor that first emerged in the late 1970s with the graffiti and street art scene of Loisaida (a term derived from the Nuyorican pronunciation of Lower East Side). Traoré strives to amplify artists who have historically been marginalized from the mainstream market. It is normal that she chose the LES. Futura, Rammelzee, CRASH, DAZE, Dondi, Lee Quinones, Lady Pink, A-One and other artists working on LES alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring between circa 1979 and 1985 are now recognized for their seminal contributions to a performing art that forever transformed the landscape of downtown Manhattan and the global art world. New York is ripe for another seismic shift fueled by creative vigor and counterculture.
Paintsil’s pioneering work eschews the ornamental depiction of human hair and elevates it as the central element of every artwork. Hair is not decorative in Ghana, and it is imbued with cultural significance and its intrinsic links to socio-economic status and identity.
Borrowing the Welsh word for hair, Gwallt (2022) is absent of any facial features and indulges in hair itself strewn with small disposable hair ties, ones that quickly lose elasticity and painfully trap strands.
Several works are inspired by the traditional dresses and hairstyles of women from Paintsil’s grandfather’s ethnic group, the Fante (also spelled Fanti) people of the southern coast of Ghana between Accra and Sekondi-Takoradi. They speak a dialect of Akan, a language of the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo language family.
“My work is informed by materials, and the concept of my work cannot be detached from materials,” Paintsil said. “The medium and the message are literally braided together.”
Evidence of their victories is on view until February 4 and runs concurrently with old indian stuffa solo exhibition by artist Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, which opened October 27 and is on view until January 14.
old indian stuff features a thirty-foot installation of 48 monotype prints that reveal the interplay of Heap of Birds’ oil viscosity and printer’s ink. It is a painstaking and exhaustive process to create 24 primary monochrome prints and 24 phantom prints on paper. Each 22-inch by 30-inch sheet requires a plexiglass plate of the same size, and Heap of Birds should write all text upside down in clear liquid on newsprint of the same size, using approximately 2,000 cotton balls -stems every day to adjust the writing. .
Time and technique underscore Heap of Birds’ commitment to championing Indigenous communities while celebrating the individuality of each person within a tribal circle.