Style Reelist

You Could Say I’m a Black Feminist Photographer

Against a pastel backdrop, a model — a real woman — stands with a mouthful of hair. The hair is Kanekalon, and it’s dangling from her lips like she’s savoring the last swallow of stringy spaghetti. Kanekalon is synthetic hair made for braiding or twisting, not eating. But in this case, the woman has successfully convinced us all that that hair tastes good.

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The image is part of a photography series by artist Nakeya B. that visually flips the idea of “good hair.” In her collection, “The Refutation of ‘Good Hair’,” Nakeya employs a clever play on words to redefine a historically-sensitive term within the Black community. Each photo — refreshingly shot on film in an age of digital omnipresence — represents a surreal understanding of good hair; whether its Kanekalon wrapped around a dinner fork or one of three women with varying hair styles (natural, relaxed, or shaved) biting into a bundle of hair.

“It’s a visual pun on that phrase ‘good hair.’ When the idea first popped in my head, I was like, there really is no such thing as good hair. It doesn’t exist,” Nakeya says. “The meaning of [good hair] should be so little. Like eating hair — something that tastes good.”

We’re all creating work about ourselves, about what we are.

Nakeya B., 25, is a graduate of Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, and currently works as a photography agent at the firm, Apostrophe. When we met last month, she was preparing for a group show organized by the artist collective Mambu Badu, which runs through June 27. The show features several artists who are creating art about their identity as women of color, including Charmaine Bee and Dhool Hassan.

Since shooting “The Refutation of ‘Good Hair’,” the project has received both national and international acclaim. For example, the fork image recently appeared on the cover of the UK-based feminist magazine Hysteria.

One of the reasons why this image is so striking and beloved is how simply Nakeya B. celebrates the intricacies of Black femininity and womanhood via beauty and rituals.

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“The Art of Sealing,” Nakeya B.

“One photo I made has gone super viral on Tumblr. And I’m like, what? I don’t get what it is,” Nakeya B. states. She is, of course, being humble. The image in question depicts a girl dipping her braids in hot, boiling water. It’s a beauty ritual that some women do to their box braids (individual braids of hair) to seal the ends and preserve the hairstyle. “I was really interested in photographing processes that women of color do with their hair.”

When I ask if the deconstruction of black beauty would be a constant theme in her work, she affirms it. “I feel like being of color these days, it’s such an exciting time. A lot of my colleagues, we’re all creating work about ourselves, about what we are, which needs to happen. Art is supposed to tell your audience a little bit about who you are, a little bit about what you stand for, and what your experiences have been.”

You could say I’m a Black, feminist photographer

“I’m OK with labels. I mean, you are what you are,” Nakeya B. tells me. “The work that I’m making; it’s very conceptual. It’s very much based in ideas and understandings of how I view myself as a woman of color, in relation to the larger American society.”

Nakeya B.’s photography concepts have evolved since she first started shooting, but the subjects have remained the same. She started capturing women of color (her friends) for fashion shoots, because they were naturally the people she hung out with. As she developed her craft, her photography became more purposeful and the focus on women of color became more thoughtful.

One of the qualities in “The Refutation of ‘Good Hair’” that caught my eye was the softness of it. The colors, the lighting, the clothes. It depicted an idea of black womanhood that was feminine and supple. Nakeya B. intentionally veered away from the harsh reds, greens, and blacks that are typically associated with Black artwork. She also sought to reject the combative label that’s constantly placed on Black women artists who express their realities through their work.

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This image was featured on the cover of feminist magazine, “Hysteria”.

“I wanted to inject a feminine feel into this project because it was created by a woman!” she exclaims.

It is this self-awareness that translates so well through her work and enables viewers and fans to see themselves in her photographs. She credits her self-awareness and pride in her identity for helping her to make black, feminist work.

“There’s nothing wrong with … making your work about your experiences, be them positive or negative,” Nakeya B. shares. “I’m not an angry artist. I feel like a lot of people think, you have Kara Walker and Renee Cox who are these super controversial “mad” black women…and it’s cool. But that’s just not who I am.”

How 20-Something Women Dressed in America, in Every Decade

By Amirah Mercer

Women’s fashion mirrors social change. The pared-down simplicity of dresses in the early 1940s reflected the austerity of wartime; the shiny sparkle of the 1980s mirrored the opulence of Wall Street and the flash of MTV.

A look back at what women were wearing over the last 11 decades tells a story about the history of women, how each decade contributed to women’s fight for empowerment and enabled women to achieve freedom of expression.

Here’s a look at how 20-something American women have been dressing for the last 100 years. 

1. 1910s

Via: http://headtotoefashionart.com/

World War I took resources away from the luxurious haute couture of the previous decade. The latter half of the 1910s saw women wearing simple, practical garments instead. Softer silhouettes marked the beginning of the end of rigid corsets and a more androgynous style that mirrored the effects of the war and, quite fittingly, coincided with the height of women’s suffrage.

2. 1920s

Via: http://chocobosandpantyhose.tumblr.com

Women in the U.S. earned the right to vote in 1920. That independence and individuality was reflected in the loose fit and revolutionary shapeless quality of their clothing. For the first time, young women decided how to portray their own femininity.

The “flapper” look was loose and shapeless with dresses that flattened women’s busts and hips. It was a period of youthful rebellion, raw energy and searing modernity that led to short hair and shorter hemlines.

3. 1930s

Via: Annalisa Hartlaub

In the 30s, fashion met the severity of the Great Depression, which marked the beginning of what many consider to be modern style. For many Americans, glamour was no longer attainable and fashion became serviceable and functional. It featured longer hemlines and an abandonment of 1920s romanticism.

Fashion, in a haute couture sense, focused one again on enhancing the body, not restricting it.

4. 1940s

Via: Marie Claire UK

Unsurprisingly, the austerity of World War II brought even more restrained clothes as materials were rationed. While in Hollywood it was an era of extreme glamour, to every day Americans it was war time austerity.

Utilitarian dressing took form in comfortable slacks and blazers worn by women in their 20s, and thanks to cloth rations, uniforms were seen more readily in daily life. Yet the growing influence of glamorous Hollywood furthered the gap between the reality and fantasy of how women in the 1940s should dress.

5. 1950s

Via: Orlando/Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Victorious in war and settling into a popular and powerful position globally, the U.S. finally opened its doors to a more frivolous play with clothing. Women of the decade were able to indulge in the exuberant femininity of Christian Dior’s “New Look”: a small nipped-in waist and full skirt that emphasized a full bust and hips. Most importantly, teens became a fashion force as their poppy energy infected the nation.

6. 1960s

Via: http://bleubirdvintage.typepad.com

The youth were the leaders of the 1960s. Women’s fashion reflected the subcultures emerging from youthful rebellion: mod (sleek and stylish), rocker (leather-clad) and hippie (casual and undefined). The ’60s broke many fashion traditions, namely spawning multiple acceptable looks for the first time.

7. 1970s

Via: Getty Images

As the hippie counterculture spilled over into the ’70s, women’s clothing continued to have a more fluid look. Increased ease of travel meant fashion became more globally inspired, through prints and accessories. Heightened social revolution saw the politicization of fashion through things like black women’s afros. And increased giddiness heightened by disco fever put 20-something women in tight, stretchy and shiny clothes made for dancing under the disco ball.

8. 1980s

Via: http://90s-80smadonna.tumblr.com

Material girls, indeed. The United States experienced an economic boom, women entered the workforce in sheer force, and with it came a very aggressive idea of power dressing (see, shoulder pads). The rise of the video star on MTV, i.e. Madonna, meant women everywhere had a new, liberated ideal to dress towards. Meanwhile, punk fashion with its black leather, Doc Martens and flannel rose up as a reaction to the materialism of the decade and a precursor to ’90s grunge.

9. 1990s

Via: 90s411.com

By this time, young women had become used to having some sort of fashion counter-culture. In the ’90s, that was a combination of grunge, hip-hop and rave. All those counter-cultures favored baggier clothes and more masculine undertones than mainstream fashion — whether over-sized flannels or wide-legged pants. Overall, fashion became more casual and severely minimal, reflecting the carefree attitude that came with a surging Dow, an abundance of science and innovation research and the explosion of the Internet.

10. 2000s

Via: vanillish.tumblr.com

This was a decade marked by women wearing recycled, mashed-up fashions. Vintage/thrift became cool, ’80s styles saw a revival and “boho” clothes inspired by ethnic prints mirrored a new globalized marketplace. The style was hard to define and mirrored a national uncertaintyfueled by deficit, two wars, the collapse of the banking system and the somber realities of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, to name a few.

11. 2010s

Via: http://onlinelookbookforafashionista.tumblr.com

As 20-something women embraced neofeminism, which celebrates the inherent differences between male and females, we’ve also embraced a skinny jeans silhouette that details our curves while “leaning in” (couldn’t help it) and wearing our tight, fiercely feminine denims on casual Friday. At the same time, hipster fashion has become an oxymoronic mainstream counter-culture in its own right. 

(This article was originally published on PolicyMic.)

Get Out of My Head

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NIGHTCAP

This spread from So It Goes Mag is so dead on with how I was planning to dress this spring/summer, it’s not even funny. Simple, modern, and athletic. I think photographer Guy Aroch and stylist Liz McClean were in my head, because the feature captures the exact look and mood that I will be embodying this season. And stop reading this with those judge-y eyes — I can’t be the only one who edits their closet each season to tweak their aesthetic for the next few months…

Anyway, here’s how I’d rock these looks in the real world.

WORK

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PLAY

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DATE NIGHT

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GIRLS NIGHT

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