The title of the exhibition, “How to Do Things with Hair”, is inspired by J.L. Austin’s paradigm-shifting work “How to Do Things with Words”, where the British philosopher of language argued that we use words not only to assert something that could be true or false, but also to “do” things.
Curator Barrak Al Zaid has applied this philosophy to the way we look at hair, particularly male body hair, by bringing together works by various artists who use hair in their work — not only as a symbolic representation, but by actually “doing” things with it.
The show features photographic art, videos, and installations by male and female artists of different nationalities. The playful yet thought-provoking works explore various sociopolitical issues, and challenge viewers to think about their perceptions of self and the relationship between their private and public identities in an increasingly interconnected world.
Al Zaid, who is from Kuwait, is the director at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde. He was among the participants of Campus Art Dubai 1.0, and has developed the exhibition as part of this initiative launched by Art Dubai in partnership with Dubai Culture.
“Although there is an unabashed objectification of the male body in some of these artworks, the subject of this show is not the body but hair, which shapes our social encounters through its association with status, race, culture, religion and gender. Each of these artists is dealing with their personal encounter with the world and personal understanding of themselves vis-à-vis male body hair and the technologies related to it. What makes the show more interesting is the interaction and dialogue between the different artworks and artistic perspectives,” Al Zaid says.
The six artists in the show have different approaches. New York-based Kuwaiti artist Dalal Ani uses the “agal” — the cord that holds in place the “ghutra” or traditional headdress of Arab men in the gulf region. She deconstructs and dismantles this symbol of masculinity by unravelling the tightly braided cord and recontextualises it by creating a hairy-looking bodysuit for herself from the threads.
In a sharp reversal of the tradition of women weaving these “agals”, her photograph, named “Women’s Circle”, depicts a group of women engaged in the difficult process of unravelling this men’s accessory. And pictures of the artist, dressed in her strange bodysuit, getting her eyebrows threaded in a New York salon draw attention to the differences in male and female attitudes to hair and technologies of hair.
In contrast with Ani’s pictures of a distinctly feminine grooming ritual, Sean Fader’s video, “Pelt”, shows him blow-drying his chest hair. The New York-based American artist has deliberately extended the two-minute grooming session to a 30-minute video taking narcissistic self-care and objectification to a whole new level.
The video is accompanied by Instagram images from his recent performance in a gallery in Chicago, titled “Wishing Pelt”, where he invited people to touch his hairy chest and make a silent wish. The artist encouraged people to post pictures of their interaction with him on social media, while keeping their wishes secret.
The pictures thus explore our interactions in the online social realm and social encounters in the real world, and the challenges of maintaining privacy and intimacy in this digital age.
The beard is a recurring element in Beirut-based Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qaderi’s work. Her sculptural work in this show, called “Dreamer”, features a plaster cast replica of her face wrapped in a long sheep-wool beard. Enclosed in a cabinet like an object in a museum, the surreal piece hovers between the real world and an alternate reality, commenting on questions of male power and authority and the exclusion and suppression of women in a male-dominated society.
Raed Yassin also addresses issues of alienation in his witty series of “Self portraits with foreign fruits and vegetables”. During a residency in Amsterdam, the Lebanese artist became acutely aware of how different he looked from the typical tall, fair-skinned, blue-eyed Dutch men. By posing with exotic fruits and vegetables found in Dutch supermarkets and kitchens, he positions himself as an exoticised foreign body, hoping to be as accepted and assimilated in a foreign culture as these foreign foods.
The show also includes a photographic triptych, “Recovering”, by Dubai-based Iranian artists Rokni and Ramin Haerizadeh. The playful pictures of flowers placed on their hairy chests juxtapose a typical symbol of beauty and fragility with a male body that is not a prototype of ideal beauty, while also commenting on modern digital technologies and the circulation of images in the digital realm.
“This show is about understanding the broader conversations happening around identity representation. I wanted to move away from the stereotypical symbol of the veil as oppressive or liberating technology of the body to look at other ways in which men and women are thinking about their body,” Al Zaid says.
The exhibition will run at The Jam Jar, Al Quoz, until December 2.
Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai.
Dubai-based Canadian artist Michelle Angela Jenkins is exhibiting her latest work in the show “From Me to You”. The artist has poured out her feelings in her abstract paintings through an explosion of colours.
“My work is not abstract — it is ‘emotional art’. It comes from within and truthfully expresses my feelings,” Jenkins says. “My mother is from Barbados and the bright colours in my work are inspired by the landscape, beaches, and people there. In Canada, I grew up in a home full of love, life, music and colour, and that is reflected in my work. I hope my paintings help viewers to escape from their daily worries and to just enjoy the beauty and splendour of art,” she added.
“From Me to You” will run at the Latitude Lounge at Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina until December 1.