Meet Kione Grandison, the 23-year-old multi-disciplinary artist from West London. In the same year of her graduating from the Wimbledon College of Fine Arts, she was also one of the talented recipients of the 2017 Woon Foundation Art Prize. Grandison has been commissioned for mural paintings across Europe and the Caribbean, with works in Paris, Jamaica, and London. Most recently she exhibited at Peckham Palms in South London as part of travelling group show ‘The Hair Appointment’ curated by Josef Adamu. Kione’s practice is most interested in the way identity and hair is displayed throughout the beauty industry and she explores this through her paintings, collages, and most recently a one of a kind hand-painted pieces of clothing.
Her current project is a collaboration with Bevan Agyemang from the lifestyle brand Tsau Store. Agyemang has given the artist the chance to travel to Accra, Ghana for the first time earlier this year where she worked with local children from the Jamestown community in creating wearable pieces which will be exhibited in September 2019 at H Town studio in East London.
Look, But You Can’t Touch by Kione Grandison
All The Pretty Birds: How did you arrive at the subject of hair in your art practice?
Kione Grandison: I think there is so much art and beauty in black hairstyling, for so long black women have been sold a Western straight-haired ideal of beauty which is not their own. My hair is a big part of my own identity, therefore my exploration into African hairstyling through my work is also a self-exploration. And in an age of ‘cultural appropriation,’ I feel that it is important for diasporic youth to understand how much power their hair holds.
ATPB: Do you consider hair to be a tool for political and visual communication?
KG: Hair can definitely be used to tell a story, and I guess that is what I do in a way within my work. In African history, hair was used as a form of visual communication. I think hair that has been altered or styled in some way, even if subconsciously, communicates how the person wearing it wants to be seen by the world. Regardless of whether I care about how others perceive me when it comes to my hair or not, there will always be preconceptions due to the way I present myself.
ATPB: What are of your earliest memories of having your own hair styled?
KG: Having my hair done by my mum before school (and being in loads of pain). My daily go-to style was two or four braids with bobbles at the top, I guess that was the quickest and easiest for her to do. I remember on special occasions, like every birthday, I would go to a salon and get cornrows in crazy patterns done. I loved them and I was willing to bear the pain of having them done, even at a really young age.
ATPB: Have you found much similarities between European and African hairstyling?
KG: I think white and black hair styling is always borrowing from each other. The only difference is that you could argue that black women’s borrowing of European hair styling techniques (straightening, blow drying etc) is a way of her trying to be accepted in society, in the workplace etc. However, a white woman doesn’t need to emulate black hair styling in order to feel accepted. It could be said that her wearing braids, faux dreads or teasing her hair into a ‘fro is a form of stealing and appropriation. Some examples are, I think that the Nigerian hairstyle ‘Onigi’ (meaning sticks) where the hair is parted and wrapped to stand on end, was emulated in 1980s punk, where the hair is covered in gel and styled into spikes. and in the 1960s overly coiffed hair was definitely most prominent. I’ve seen so many images of famous black singers like Aretha Franklin emulating these straightened blow-dry updos. I also see similarities to 1960s extravagant hairstyling and some hairstyles that today would be labelled as ‘Ghetto’ and most typically worn by African American women.
ATPB: ‘Wild’ is one of my favorite pieces, it’s so striking the hairstyle reminds me of one of Louise Bourgeois’s spider works, can you tell me more about this collage?
KG: I often like to collage over existing images rather than to start with a blank page. Naturally this means that my collage, and the image underneath begin to interact. ‘Wild‘ depicts a large jungle scene being held up by a person either side, as if to show off the scene to an audience. The floating head in the centre with long threads of hair is being viewed and also presented. Her hair takes on the form of the trees in a threaded hairstyle called ‘Onigi’, which literally means sticks. I made this piece whilst thinking about exoticization, and fetishism of the black body. Reading about the story of Saartje Baartman, who is an example to me of the treatment of black women’s bodies in the 1800s. Baartman was brought to Europe and exhibited as a ‘freakshow’ for her curvy figure, and died aged 25 from disease. Her body was preserved, dissected and displayed in the ‘Musee de l’Homme’ in Paris all the way up until 1974.
ATPB: Do you think your work challenges representations of black women in magazine publications?
KG: I have always felt a bit disconnected from Black hair magazines because it’s not really a true reflection of Black women’s hair. They’re selling products at the end of the day. By combining new with old in my work, I feel creates a hybrid version of reality, an image of hair which is perhaps unattainable but isn’t meant to be sought after, just observed and admired. Within black hair magazines, hairstyles are often described as luxury items to be sought after but are so often depicting straight European hair (wigs and extensions) on black models. I like combining this text with my collages as a way of changing and challenging the narrative and adding a form of satire to my work. (e.g. in my collage ‘Amazing up do’ above).
ATPB: Who are some of your favorite artists?
KG: It’s a very long list. I love Faith Ringgold’s work, Hurvin Anderson, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Ellen Gallager, Wangetchi Mutu, Kerry James Marshall. I’m missing loads… but some of my favourite artists are unnamed, I’m obsessed with some street art I have seen in Jamaica and Ghana. I think that these artists have naturally influenced my work too.
Kione Grandison x Tsau Store exhibition is on from 20th – 21st September at H Town studio in London. All proceedings will be donated to The Sunsumfoundation in Ghana.
All images courtesy of the artist.
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