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Exploring the Aesthetics of Black Women’s Hair through art | A Q&A with Tshegofatso Seoka

Currently on show at the NWU Gallery is Not Another Hair Show, a group exhibition that brings together a wide range of artists and mediums, and stems from research conducted by academic, art historian, and curator Tshegofatso Seoka. Following the launch of the virtual and physical exhibition, which ‘serves as an examination of the aesthetics of black female hair in the work of select African artists’, we spoke with Seoka about curating a show born from her own dissertation, grappling with representations of blackness through visual art, and more.

First off, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

Tshegofatso Seoka in an academic, art historian, independent curator, and Managing Director of Ms Simone. Ms Simone is a company I founded with the aim of contributing to the contemporary African and South African art archive in order to open the art market to new buyers, at attempts of developing the saturated African art market, broadening the audience and consumption of African art.

  • Thuthukani Myeza
  • Nkhensani Rihlampfu
  • Stephen Langa
  • Olwethu De Vos
  • Thabiso Dakamela
  • Samantha Maseko
Not Another Hair Show is an extension of the research you did for your dissertation, Hair Politics: An Examination of the Aesthetics of Black Female Hair in the Work of Select African Artists. What was this initial research process like? How did you go about researching and selecting artists?

The initial research process was difficult as I had to make sure my outputs would be relevant in South Africa, the African continent, as well as the diaspora. Issues of black hair for black women appear globally, and although the issues and the lived experience may be varied, multitudes of black women have experienced segregation, criticism, and discrimination for their hair and chosen hairstyle. The exhibition wishes to illuminate those issues while also celebrating the ingenuity of black hair and black hairstyling by showing African hairstyling as innovative expressions of pattern, texture and a celebration and embodiment of one’s identity, which I believe was expressed through the selection of artists. 

Does a physical exhibition add a new element to your research or is it simply another way of engaging with and making sense of your research?
NWU Gallery exhibition

Although emanating from the Dissertation, the physical exhibition serves as a new development of the body of knowledge when it comes to black hair which will be explored further in new articles for publishing. Thus, the exhibition features new elements, themes, and disciplines that I had not included in the published dissertation. The artists and artworks featured in the physical exhibition and in the dissertation differ as some of the works in the dissertation belong to prestigious collections and have been exhibited numerously. I intended with the physical exhibition to present fresh new perspectives from emerging and well-known contemporary artists. Pertinent themes in this physical exhibition include hybridity and the development of new fluid identities expressed in Roland Gunst’s AFROPEANS series. While also exploring the informal hair care market of South Africa and its contribution to the country’s GDP, which can be seen in the included work of Nonkululeko Sibande and the installation. Furthermore, the exhibition deals with the beauty politics inherent in blackness and the issue of mimicry expressed through the inclusion of the works of Olwethu De Vos and Phulusho Ngomane. The works of Thuthukani Myeza also feature as showing the history of black African hairstyling as he also uses a colonial archive for his artworks.  The work of Samantha Maseko highlights the issues of black hair in the US while the work of Thabiso Dakamela and Stephen Langa simply celebrate the beauty and creativity of Black women and their hairstyles.

One of the things that you question in your dissertation is a hegemony in the representation of blackness. How does this translate in the exhibition and through the artworks you’ve chosen to include in this show?

Black visual culture and black aesthetics are often confined to the simplistic afro, bald, or dreadlock imagery when it comes to the mass mediated representation of blackness. The exhibition aims to showcase the diverseness of African and black aesthetics presented in the chosen hairstyles, by highlighting the fact that African and black aesthetics are made up of a plethora of visual elements, textures, patterns, colours and cement them as varied aesthetic representations of blackness. The chosen artworks range from drawings, sculpture, photography, paintings, digital illustrations, pyrography, and installation, all speaking to the diverseness of Black and African aesthetics and the abundance of black hairstyling and its representations.

Where can our readers find more of your work?   

Your readers can find out more about Tshegofatso Seoka and Ms Simone through our digital platforms such as the Ms Simone website, Instagram account, and Linkedin.  

The online component of the exhibition can be found here, while the virtual tour of the exhibition can be seen here.

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