This show has locks to love.
A Bedford-Stuyvesant art gallery triumphs the beauty of afros and other natural African-American hairstyles in its new show. The artist behind “Afros: A Celebration of Natural Hair” said he wants his work to help people of color accept their natural locks and shun dominant cultural expectations.
“It’s about a rejection of imposed beauty standards and just feeling free,” said Michael July, a native Brooklyn photographer who grew up in Clinton Hill. “We were all born with natural hair, so embrace it.”
“Afros,” an exhibit of photographs from July’s 2013 book of the same name, opened at House of Art Gallery on June 20, and the show will remain through Aug. 1.
July started the project in 2006, snapping shots of people with afros, dreadlocks, and other natural ’dos whenever he came across them. At the time, he said, the hair style was less common than it is now, and he had to be ready whenever he spotted a person with striking natural hair.
“When I started it wasn’t as prevalent,” he said. “I would see someone on the bus with a really nice afro and I’d jump off three or four stops before mine in order to talk to them and photograph them.”
July travelled around the country taking photos of both ordinary people and famous afro-wearers like Cornel West, comedian Reggie Watts, and singer Cody Chestnutt. But his own borough was an especially rich area for finding photography subjects, he said.
“One thing you find in Brooklyn that sort of never went away, even when afros were less common, is natural hair stylists. In other places people are hard pressed to find that, but in Brooklyn there’s one within a half mile of each other,” said July. “I think Brooklyn has always been a very creative community, and people appreciate their roots and their history. I think people inspired by art tend to carry themselves in a more afrocentric way.”
The gallery director, also a native Brooklynite, said he hopes the celebration of natural hair can help inspire a new generation to define beauty outside conventional norms.
“I can have the conversation with my daughter, but when she sees a coffee table book with 450 pages of men and women with natural hair, that is a whole ‘nother thing,” said Richard Beavers, who founded House of Art to promote artwork by and for the residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant. “A book like this is something that promotes and encourages it.”
“Afros: A Celebration of Natural Hair,” at House of Art Gallery [408 Marcus Garvey Blvd. between Halsey and Macon streets in Bedford-Stuyvesant, (347) 663–8195, www.hoaga