Isn't It Beautiful?

Kathleen Cleaver, Photographed by Howard Bingham

Kathleen Cleaver, Photographed by Howard Bingham

Fifteen years ago, I assisted a documentary filmmaker in Boston, Mass.  He found me intellectually dull and hypocritically religious.  He was right.  I knew there was a tiny flame inside that hungered for the fuel of scholarly insight.  If only I could find the time to read a newspaper (print was still a big deal), then I could wow my mentor with a unique perspective on the international happenings of our day.  

Instead I struggled to make it through each day.  I was a single mother of two, living in a city where strangers had become family.  My closest relatives were a twelve-hour drive away.  I battled depression and bipolar illness, but was not aware of this diagnosis at the time.  Religion was my medicine.  It was good medicine.  It kept me reaching for the next day when my brain asked, "Why bother making it through the night?"  

I chose jobs that afforded the opportunity to either learn or create something new.  As a receptionist, I could sit at a desk and answer phones while writing my next big screenplay.  As an assistant documentarian, I had access to rare footage that told stories of the 20th century Black experience.  

It was during this time that I came across video of Kathleen Cleaver talking about her hair.  It was a short, powerful clip that struck me in such a way, I still think about it all these years later.  

 

"This brother here, myself, all of us were born with our hair like this.

And we just wear it like this, because it's natural.

The reason for it you might say...it's like a new awareness among Black people.

That their own natural appearance, this physical appearance is beautiful.

And it's pleasing to them.

For so many, many years we were told that only White people were beautiful.

Only straight hair, light eyes, light skin was beautiful.

And so Black women would try everything they could....

Straighten their hair, lighten their skin to look as much like White women.  

But this has changed because Black people are aware.

And White people are aware of it too, because White people now want natural wigs.

They want wigs like this.

Dig it?  

Isn't it beautiful?

- Kathleen Cleaver, 1968

I coupled this footage with symbol and typography to recall the role hair played in the protests and the power struggles of 1960's America.  

My installation, "Isn't It Beautiful," will be on exhibit for Woman. Hair. Power. @ The Ground Floor Gallery.

My former boss may never know the brilliant woman I've become, but you can catch a glimpse of the new and improved me on Saturday, March 29th during this one-day-only Women's History Event.

Tickets are available HERE.