Blackness through flowers and afros

5 Mins read

In the summer of 2016, young black women and black photographers developed a new artistic aesthetic that combines nature and natural hair, blossomed on the social media platforms, Instagram and Tumblr.

The new trend where flowers meet afros aims to showcase the beauty of black hair and how flowers compliment it. Many black women saw this as an opportunity to display their appreciation for their hair.  They take photographs with arrange of individual flowers in their hair.

But this wasn’t enough.

Photographers have taken this trend a step further by editing pictures of afro hair by replacing it with images flowers or galaxies of stars. An artist who works gained a lot of recognition on the internet because of this trend was Pierre Jean-Louis.

Louis is an African-American visual artist who started a series called, Black Girl Magic which highlights and celebrates the beauty of natural hair. Through the series, the artist aims to let black women know much he appreciates them for embracing their African heritage through his work. Louis told Bored Panda: “A lot of [black women] are brainwashed to not appreciate their natural beauty.”

He also said: “I saw so many black queens who feel comfortable enough and proud to show their African heritage so I decided to start this series to let them know how much I appreciate them and their natural beauty. I just want them to see how we black men see them when they’re rocking their natural hair. We see nothing but strong goddesses and queens, thank you.”

Natural hair blogger Naomi, 18, says: “I think the trend of flowers in afro hair is beautiful. I’ve always pictured a black woman as the epitome of ‘mother nature’, and the trend supports this view. It’s beautiful to position black women like this as they are usually at the bottom of society’s hierarchy.”

Fashion Design student Andreia, 20, adds: “I have an appreciation towards the trend as flowers are universally adored, we associate flowers as natural and beautiful and placing them on hair enhances that appreciation.”

Lacey Johns owner of Retro Rich Hair Company says: “I love the trend as it is empowering a previously ignored segment of society. The black woman and highlighting the beauty in our natural hair.”

Johns told Artefact that she created a platform to empower women of an afro-descent by creating a network for like-minded women on a journey to a healthier and ultimately happier life.

“Natural hair to me means first and foremost health, then secondly true beauty because of the uniqueness that natural hair has” she adds.

It is undeniable that the trend and these edit images are beautiful but does it truly represent blackness and appreciate African heritage?

The continents of Africa makes up of 54 countries, all rich in culture. These cultures are the elements of blackness that should be celebrated and incorporated in imagery to help black women to embrace their African-ness. How can one possibly love Africa if the elements of Africa are excluded?

Black women have come a long way with their hair. It has taken movements and wearing their natural hair out unapologetically to stimulate this love and appreciation for black hair. Many women of colour no longer feel pressured to chemically alter their hair to compete or be equal to their white counterparts, but instead, they have redefined the ideologies by creating their own. Which is true beauty within itself.

Editing pictures of afros and turning it into a flowery garden on Photoshop does not challenge the notion of a social standard of beauty but actually, conforms. Black women have constantly been told that their hair isn’t good enough in its natural state and by replacing their hair with flowers is doing the exact same thing. There is no essence of Africa heritage in this as Lous claims.

What’s wrong with an afro just being photographed in its own nature state?

Why isn’t that beautiful or visually pleasing enough?

UAL Fine Art Photography student at Camberwell Mariam Turay, 20, told us: “Sometimes I want to see afro hair photographed as it is without the flowers, without it being embellished.”

Turay also shares her concerns as well as what she would like to see from photographers as she says: “a majority of the time the people that get photographed are really pretty, have that sort of ‘model look’ or have really big hair.”

“I want to see someone with shrinkage, a small afro or someone who hasn’t combed their hair out.”

This raises a concern on whether trend includes all black women or those who are considered more physical appealing to social standards. Trends such as these have become exhausting, to say the least, because everyone with a camera and Photoshop has found a sudden urge to turn hair into a bouquet and has made a cute attempt of convincing spectators that it is ‘art’ and ‘black appreciate’.

But in all honesty, the trend primarily reinforces pretty people, pretty flowers and big hair which is more problematic than endearing. Not every black woman with natural hair can relate to these images as the narrative is deeper than beauty. 

 “I want the pictures to be relatable. Photographers pick the most model-looking people and that’s not relatable,” Marian Turay told us.

“I understand it is supposed to be a celebration, a portrayal, something to make you feel good about yourself but at the same time, the pictures are not all good representations” she claims.

Artefact asked the ladies whether they believed the trend has impacted black women enough to use it as a tool to redefine themselves and if it represents African-ness and blackness.

Andreia says: “I believe the use of flowers in hair doesn’t redefine the beauty of hair in a negative way, I feel the use of flowers in afro hair is a way of enhancing the beauty of afro hair. In a way, it encourages people to appreciate natural hair more.”

Johns mentioned: “I don’t think [the trend] redefines it but instead, highlights the beauty of hair. It doesn’t represent blackness or African-ness exclusively but like with all trends we have taken lead and made something beautiful, unique and popular,” she added.

Marketing employee, Aysha Sow says: “Putting flowers in our hair does not mean we are trying to redefine the beauty of our hair, just like putting scarves or colour in your hair does not redefine that beauty.

“It is a way of expression, which complements our hair, but not redefines its beauty. Because the beauty of your hair starts from within. It starts with self-acceptance and self-love” she adds

Wonderland magazine fashion team member Anique Crystal, 22, said: “I just feel like it has been overdone and it’s not original. There’s not really a problem of taking someone’s idea and using it and twist it into another concept but no one has really done it again and made it look more original.”

She also says: “It’s either the person has been laying on the floor with flowers in their hair or like they’ve got a big afro and they’ve put a couple in their hair or they hold flowers in their hands. It’s played out now, so it’s like next, what’s new?

“If I was looking to do a photoshoot and I was working with people and that’s the concept they brought to me I would be disappointed.”

The notion of feeling at one with my afro through the usage of flowers is far-fetched.

It’s just pretty.                                                                                                              

Black hair doesn’t need redefining through plants, it can speak for itself and be represented in itself. It’s simplest of concepts are the most powerful and the most beautiful.





Featured image by Cheyanne Ntangu

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