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Exhibition 'Don't Touch My Hair' Pushes Museumgoers to Ponder About Consent

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon has a new exhibition on display. It addresses something almost all of us have on our heads: hair. KLCC's Deonna Anderson visited the museum to see the show and talk to the curator.

The exhibition is a series of photographs taken by UO students of other students. They are Black, White, Latino, Asian and multiracial. Their hair is straight, curly, in afros, and shaved on the side. Each photo is accompanied by the subject's hair story. 

“I thought it was really important to talk about things that we all understand. We all have hair,” says Meredith Lancaster, guest curator for the 'Don't Touch My Hair' exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. “What happens to that hair is different depending on who we are and what our life circumstances are and maybe what our religion is. But at the very basis level, we all have it.”

In curating the show, Lancaster was also thinking about how to bring humanity and empathy into the world. A UO alum herself, she wanted to celebrate the growing diversity of the student body. She hopes museumgoers walk away thinking about consent for touching other people's hair. 

“It nods to one of my favorite musicians and the queen of my life Solange Knowles,” Lancaster says, referring to a song from the artist’s 2016 album ‘A Seat at the Table.’

“I just think it is very important to remember that hair has a cultural significance and that for Black women, hair is political and that we have the right to wear here any way we choose,” says Dayja Curry, a UO student who is co-director of the Black Women of Achievement, a student organization often referred to as BWA. 

The idea for the exhibition came from them. Every year BWA has an Ethnic Hair Care Day event. This past year the keynote speaker was hairstylist Janelle Crouch. She shared part of her hair story there. 

Lancaster says while Atlanta-based Crouch was in town, she visited the museum and they had a conversation. 

“We just talked about how important it is for students of color and students from diverse backgrounds to have a place to kind of have those kinds of conversations, so that was really the starting point,” she adds.

That led to a series of community conversations about the importance of hair as an expression of identity, resistance, and affirmation. Students showed up to those conversations and they got vulnerable. 

“And there were times where the conversation got incredibly intimate and there were tears sometimes,” Lancaster says. “So I think all of that is to say you know I don't think a lot of people really think about what's on their head but a lot of people do.” 

Those students became models for the exhibition. Ugochukwu Akabike goes to the U of O and is a photographer for the exhibit. He says growing up he always got the same haircut. And while he's helped his mom and sister take down their braids, that was the extent of his knowledge. 

“But being able to work on this project and hear people's stories about what hair might mean to them, that has been at the very minimum eye opening for me,” Akabike shares. 

Jasmine Jackson, another student photographer, changes her hair often and she's had people touch her without her consent. Jackson says she hopes museum visitors really take in people's stories after viewing the exhibition. 

“I just hope that when people view these, they're not only captivated by how beautiful all the photos turned out but also these are people that want people to understand why their hair is significant to them for whatever reason that might be,” Jackson says.

'Don't Touch My Hair' will be on display at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon until May 13.