Rebecca Bair’s “The Sun Found Me Amongst the Clouds,” presented by Burrard Arts Foundation, and open from August 18th to October 22nd is an exhibition showing silhouettes of black hair, and the flow of kanekalon playing the role of clouds in deep indigo skies. In these clouds, you can dream up shapes and musings — I saw the sun faintly from under the ocean, I saw the universe’s entrails all coiled up, I saw meteors, pollen and seedlings running on airstreams. All things that are organic, all things powerful and in everlasting movement — even when the sways are soft. It begs the question, stiff where?!
The chemical lore behind this show includes the characters ‘Cyanotype Fluids,’ ‘Cotton Sheets’ and ‘Sunlight Beams.’ They clashed in the grand Battle of Photosynthesis but ultimately settled their differences, the tale of their reconciliation is told in glyphs of lightning, sunshine, clouds and wind in all their atmospheric glory. In essence, the show consists of cyanotype prints, created with brushes made of hair extensions. When material is exposed to light via the cyanotype process, its photo-negative image is left behind — a casted shadow amidst a rich indigo background. Those gleaming silhouettes emanate a palpable ethereality. Ethereal: adjective 1. “Delicate, light, too perfect for this world.” Attributions the Western world has always refused to “grant” to Black hair. But that IS the material truth of Black hair, it needs no introduction or allowance. It is gentle, it is sweet, it is organic and it is beautiful. Whether it came from a pack from the beauty supply store, or it has always been finely coiled into 4c shrinkage treasure troves. Black hair is real magic; it is as real as the sky and clouds regardless of if it’s human, remy or synthetic. These thoughts are just some of what I dreamt up in Bair’s cyanotypes, each individual one calls to something adjacent or askew.
Rebecca Bair creates a Black roundtable discussion out of often wordless prompts — the dialogue in her imagery is playfully floating around in the art’s airspace. The words imagined are nurturing and tender, in-line with Bair’s ethos of “celebrating Black plurality, as well as enabling interpersonal and intercultural care, being a vehicle through which the complexities of history and identity can be uncovered, redefined and expressed. ”
Walking into BAF, you first catch a glimpse of cotton sheets straight ahead, suspended in staggered alignment, like a game of peek-a-boo. Some tall, some small, floating above and betwixt natural eye-lines. Walking into their midst felt like wading into a tidal pool. Some of the photo-negatives twirled like fine sand in a little dancing current.
These works were placed in front of a bright yellow wall. Not yellow like the sun, but yellow like a meyer lemon. Meyer lemons are thee recipe lemon — potent and versatile. That yellow seemed to be infatuated with the deep, bluest, bluey-blue, of the cyanotype sheets. Blue’s sprightliness, passion and enigmatism harmonized with yellow’s consistency and love of new challenges. They were perfect for each other and seemed to be in a most saturated love. Yellow let blue express themselves without shame or hesitation — so blue became everything they wanted to be. Within those cotton sheets, blue became giant orbs of hot plasma, jellyfish in choreographed numbers, rorschach ink tests shaped like mother spiders, splatters of leave-in conditioner, seed pods running around and leaving their footprints behind, moisture stains in a satin bonnet, electric filament sparks, ancient doodles of little girls with stretched fros, guts twisted into a rose, shedden follicles after the knotless braids come down, and Mars up close. I think each of those entities may have something to say – whether it’s an “mhm” or a whole dissertation.
Black hair can quickly graduate from playtime to chemical baths. Butterfly clips, and bobble hair ties, to hot comb scorches on your earlobes and stifled yips (they say don’t be tender-headed but your ears better come correct too!) The cyanotype bath converses with the relaxer kit.
A happy medium is box braids concluded by plastic beads. The clacking when you skip and hop is a symphony, but not everyone loves the tune of it. Sometimes they hate it so much they make you turn it off. Sometimes they even try to trick you into thinking it’s in the wrong key. They battle black hair with their notions of validity — “is your hair real?” My water wave hair is as real as the Atlantic ocean. Her sew-in bundles are as real as bushels of harvest crops. The plastic beads sing an encore for the jellyfish in the clouds who dance along.
Synthetic hair is a guardian. “Protective styles” are called that for a reason — they keep our gentle strands safe. Safe from 400+ degrees of ceramic, ion, and tourmaline friction that break apart our bonds. The hot plasma orb sees parts of itself in the flat-iron.
Down with the notion that Black curls don’t grow, when our coils reach for the sky they do it sneakily, keeping their full glory a tucked away secret — never underestimate any fro! Like little seed pods falling miles from the tree they were born from, a little shedding is good — it’s all part of the growth cycle. The seedlings relate to the strands when it comes to flying the coop.
It shouldn’t be controversial to wear your hair as it comes from your scalp, but the reality is it can often catch some heat. Black hair as it chooses to exist is not inflammatory, is not undignified, and is not a spectacle — it is radiant glory. Like the hieroglyphic little girl, like the filaments in a lightbulb, shining is just what they do. And what about it? Strong and soft, delicate and powerful, Black hair is everything at once. It is Mars, the sky, its clouds, and its subsequent musings tucked inside a satin bonnet.
Rebecca Bair via “The Sun Found Me Amongst the Clouds,” encapsulates Black identity and its vastness is each sheet of steeped cotton. These cyanotypes cement Black hair of every kind as real. As real as the elements, and as real at the ritual of a seamless 360-frontal-bussdown install. This show is infinite dialogue and eminent relation.