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2020 A Year of Research and Reflection : February

February Brought on a slew of embodied research. I was wrapping, coiling, braiding, netting, creating triaxial weaves. I was working the rhythms of the movements that produced these building techniques into my body. I was trying to embed them into my subconscious so that I could then use them to create robust 3 dimensional structures from fragments of other mostly 2 dimensional materials. Another way to say that is, I was training myself to be able to do these quickly, efficiently, and consistently without having to think about it.

The image that comes to mind is of women working in an African hair braiding shop. Their fingers whip through the hair making the hair ends dance. It happens so quickly that the eye cannot track the movement, on the ripples that it causes at those ends. I aspire to that level of mastery and technique. Maybe one day I will get there.

In this moment though I was doing the prepwork. The questions that drove my research were: How can I use these techniques to create freestanding or hanging 3 dimensional structures that are responsive to light, touch and weight but hold their form? What are the limitations of these techniques in different materials? Which organic materials can I apply these techniques to? What visual textures do these techniques produce? How do the textures created by one technique interact with those created by another?

These questions all seem very academic when I write them this way. Really though they are really quite basic.I have actually posed them to myself many times before at different points in my life. One of the most interesting things about this research to me is how it is taught or mastered in different cultural contexts.

I grew up as a Black girl with Black hair and I was partially responsible for maintaining that hair. My hair care practice is the starting point for my embodied research practice around fibers and fiber manipulation techniques. At various points in childhood I spent time with my mom, a skilled garment maker, and in rodeo communities where rope and knots are a basic feature of everyday life. These spaces also contributed to the research and technical studies that support my practice today.

Looking back beyond me there are so many examples of Black and Black African people, particular women and femmes who were constantly innovating ways to use fibers and fiber based techniques to build incredible 2 and 3 dimensional art works which were not considered artworks because they wore them on their head as hair.

Going forward whenever I talk about my work and the way that I work I will talk about these artists as the lineage of artists that I am descended from. I will talk about hair. I will talk about embodied research. I will talk you the contextual cultural applications of the techniques that I use in my practice. I will talk about epigenetic and blood memory.

This are some of the new technical terms that I am learning for stuff that I’ve been doing my whole life:

Coil - curve, helix or spiral used for storing hair, rope, cable, twine, string etc, anything that is a flexible fiber strand. ( photo, coiled charger cables)

Wrap - when you coil something tightly around something else ( photo : copper wire coiled around rattan to make a 3D structure)

Braiding : diagonal weaving pattern with 3 or more stands that creates a bias woven strip ( photo: me and my single cornrow, which is a kind of braid)

Weaving : combining warp and weft to make a woven structure. Warp and weft refer to the strands that are being woven and the ones that are being woven into ( this is a triaxial weave which actually has three axes. A warp, a weft and Im not sure what the word is for referring to a third weaving axis. Any of y’all know?)

Twining: to twist together 2+ strands ( of fiber) ( the Senegalese twists that I have myself, also this copper veiling that I am making )

In closing:

Somebody buy me this J.D OKHAI OJEIKERE book so I can connect with my artistic ancestors. It still costs $250+ to buy used. I like to visit it on the internet from time to time and imagine the beauty that awaits me between its covers.

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