01 Mar A photo series about the politics of hair by Robert Nzaou-Kissolo
Black hair. There are so many things that one can do with it. It can be kinky today, straight tomorrow and curly the next day. Congolese photographer Robert Nzaou-kissolo’s photo series, the Salon de Coiffure project, sets out to question and understand why young black girls in Congolese society grow up hating their beautiful, natural, kinky hair. What is it about the glorious beauty that is Afro that makes black girls ashamed to be seen with one? For many black woman, hair is not just something to play with. It is something that is loaded with messages of self-confidence, societal standards, and has the power to dictate how those around you treat you and how you treat yourself as a result.
What is it in society that makes young black women feel that they are not beautiful enough in their own skin and everything that makes them special and unique and powerful? Why are more and more young women afraid to embrace their uniqueness and to be proud of it? Robert believes that the media is to blame, saying that “our media is still predominantly Western-driven, from news reports, movies, series…[and] Caucasian looks are still seen as better.” The Salon de Coiffure project aims to highlight this problem which is deeply rooted in not just the Congolese society, but other African societies as well. Young black women cannot be expected to embrace their beauty when their unique beauty is not what society is telling them to embrace. Robert says that “it’s hard, if not impossible, to undo a belief when you are seeing the images all around you”.
Observing the pressure that his niece goes through in the name of beauty, Robert began interrogating the power that the media and society has over African women. This led him to ask questions about how society has been indoctrinated by the media’s definition of beauty. Whether a girl has a weave on or not as well as the type of weave has become an element that determines a woman’s social status. “Believe it or not,” Robert says, but “women with natural hair are seen as lower class citizens because according to society the only reason they don’t have fake hair is because they can’t afford it”. This is supported by high-profile women who serve as role models like Congolese female TV anchors and women in government who all wear fake hair. “The higher the position,” Robert explains, “the more likely they are to wear expensive weaves”. What’s more, he learned that many young girls believe that girls with weaves will get more attention from boys because they are viewed as more beautiful. This is why he rarely sees his niece any other woman in his community with natural hair. Through his photo series Robert is perhaps proposing that it’s time to engage men in the conversation, to love and embrace African woman’s natural beauty.
Hair is hair and it doesn’t and shouldn’t make a person. We need more forms of intervention (like the Salon de Coiffure project ) to empower women to resist the standard of beauty that society and popular media continues to try and impress as standard.
You can see more of more of Robert’s work right here.