A couple weeks ago, I went to a dance event at Carleton called “Hair & Other Stories” that was put on by the Urban Bush Women as part of the Ward Lucas Lecture Series in the Arts. Urban Bush Women is a dance group founded in 1984 by choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, who sought to “bring the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance … from a woman-centered perspective and as members of the African Diaspora in order to create a more equitable balance of power in the dance world and beyond.” This group came to Carleton to perform “Hair & Other Stories,” which is a continuation of their multi media performance HairStories, which explores the “concept of nappy hair and its relationship to images of beauty, social position, heritage and self-esteem.”
Throughout the performance “Hair & Other Stories,” there was a combination of dance, spoken word, play performance, audience interactions, and a whole variety of different forms of media. The cast was entirely Black, and female with the exception of one White woman (who made a comment during the performance about being a White woman in the Urban Bush Women), and one Black man. One of the most interesting parts to me about this dynamic was that while there were many pieces with everybody together and many pieces with people in different combinations of the group, the pieces that demonstrated the most intimacy—the pieces in which the women were sitting and doing each other’s hair, touching their hair, and talking about hair, only included the Black women. This relates to Carrie Mae Weems’ photo series, which demonstrates a group of Black women in a home, talking, laughing, and doing each other’s hair. In one photo, a white woman comes in, however, she is not present in the shots that are related to hair, which I also considered the most intimate shots.
Source: Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table Series, http://carriemaeweems.net/galleries/kitchen-table.html
Much of this intimacy is wrapped up in the importance of the politicization of Black hair, which is discussed in Kobena Mercer’s article “Black Hair/Style Politics.” Since the Afro become a symbol of Black Pride and Black Power in the 1960s, the Afro has become a deeply political hair-style, since “hair-styles are political in that they articulate responses to the panoply of historical forces which have invested this element of the ethnic signifier with both personal and political ‘meaning’ and significance.” However, “by regarding one’s hair-style as directly ‘expressive’ of one’s political awareness this sort of argument tends to prioritize self over society and ignore the mediated and often contradictory dialectic between the two.” In the Urban Bush Women performance, the women’s hair was deeply political, as demonstrated by the ways in which they portrayed their experiences with their hair, and the intentional sitting out of the white woman in the scenes that discussed hair. While hair is a deeply political concept for these women, it is also deeply personal, intimate, and individualized. The Urban Bush Women demonstrate this paradox between the personal and political through their political performance of a personal interaction and experience, and show that for Black women, even when their choices are personal, they become political because of how their bodies are read, as Black, politicized, and public.
Angela Davis, September 28, 1972
Source: Getty Images, http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/showing-a-black-power-salute-and-that-now-familiar-gap-news-photo/515410882#showing-a-black-power-salute-and-that-now-familiar-gaptoothed-smile-picture-id515410882
 “Urban Bush Women: Mission & Core Values,” http://www.urbanbushwomen.org/about_ubw/mission_values/
 Caron Atlas, “The Hair Parties Project Case Study: Urban Bush Women,” Animating Democracy: 1-18, http://animatingdemocracy.org/sites/default/files/documents/labs/urban_bush_women_case_study.pdf.
 Kobena Mercer, “Black Hair/Style Politics,” new formations 3 (1987): 37.