Roots & Roads was Franklin Street Works’ last exhibition and closed May 17, 2020

Terri Smith

February 8, 2020 – May 17, 2020

A group show, Roots & Roads features contemporary art that centers Black hair culture. Focusing on recent work by emerging Black artists Roots & Roads is curated by  Anita N. Bateman, a Providence, Rhode Island-based curator who specializes in modern and contemporary African art and art of the African Diaspora. The exhibition developed as a tribute to the African women who braided seeds and rice into their hair, and into the hair of their children, to ensure that they could provide sustenance despite the unknown circumstances effected by the transatlantic slave trade. This practice is a reflection of the central role hair and land play in articulating ideologies of affirming Blackness, both on the continent and in the African Diaspora. The exhibition title plays on homophones “roots” and “routes,” examining the multiple meanings of each in relation to history and memory. 

“Black hair has been targeted in every aspect of society: in school, in the workplace, and even within Black culture itself,” Bateman says. “As an Afrodiasporic subject, I wanted to think about the social institutions and creative practices concerning hair, facilitating dialogue amongst other Black folks about the idea of ‘rootedness.’” 

The works in this show explore visual similarities and symbolic parallels between land and hair across different forms of media, including video, performance, sculpture, and photography. For instance, Katarra LaRae Peterson’s “Untitled (hairpiece triptych)” combines synthetic hair and paint on paper to create abstract landscapes, or hairscapes, which consider the materiality of hair within the context of race and  representation as well as what it means to respect boundaries; and Nontsikelelo Mutiti’s site specific installation is inspired by products sold in beauty supply stores and the geometric intricacy of braided styles.  By examining environments integral to the construction of Black cultural practices, the artists in this exhibition consider the subtle and more direct associations hair has to inherited legacies of dislocation and estrangement, and conversely, belonging. 

Exhibiting Artists: Nakeya Brown, Becci Davis, Morel Doucet, Adama Delphine Fawundu, Wangui Maina, Nontsikelelo MutitiKatarra LaRae Peterson, Jay Simple, Julianknxx, Bryan Keith Thomas, Nafis White, Andrew Wilson, and Nadia Wolff