The Politics of Hair (Proposal to Ryerson University)

Everybody Does Something to Change Their Appearance for Advancement - Photo Courtesy of
Everybody Does Something to Change Their Appearance for Advancement - Photo Courtesy of

The politics of black hair shows in books like Tenderheaded to the Princess of Wales plays ‘Da Kink in My Hair and Hairspray to movies like Beauty Shop to songs played on Flow 93.5.

Continue reading “The Politics of Hair (Proposal to Ryerson University)”


What Happened to the Afro?

What Happened to the Afro?

Here is a commentary radio piece that aired with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. To find out more about this topic, you can also visit my website where a book is on this topic at


Painting of Black Woman with Afro embodied by a Rose and Based in Water is Art

Donna Kakonge\’s Painting – Photo Courtesy of Donna Kakonge


After the Caribana Exhibit in July, I contacted Joan Butterfield, the curator to congratulate her on the exhibit.

She invited me to submit to their next exhibit when I expressed a personal interest in art. I had the paints and 30 X 40 canvasses ready according to the submission guidelines and the deadline to submit is May 2011. I painted the picture above to prepare for the 2011 Caribana Exhibit.

The painting is on a 20 X 30 stretched canvas and is a black woman with an afro, surrounded by a red rose with two different bodies of water. Above the afro in some of the corners are flashes of yellow. Below are flashes of orange just above the crimson red rose. The body of water to the left is dark, rich blue. The body of water to the right is about three shades lighter. It took me three days to do this painting.

First, I sketched the outline using sharpies. This was on the first day and my arms were in pain at times, so I needed to take breaks. The following day, I used oil pastels to fill in the colour. I discovered that you really need to paint hard with the used oil pastels I was using; almost as though I would be painting the walls in the house my father lives in now. This was a different kind of painting.

On the final day, I added the definition with the lines under the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, accented the lips and defined the eyelashes. I also was aiming to add more texture to the canvas, unlike what I had helped to do with my father’s walls, and added more paint to all of the colours to give a thickness to the appearance.

Dewey (1934) says impulsions start from a need and are the beginning of artwork in a given environment. Dewey (1934) goes on to explain that the experience of art is a high form of the human experience. I felt a great need to do this painting when I saw Toni Daley’s “Blame it on Boogie” at the Caribana Exhibit. Her painting is of a nude black woman, framed from the chest up and encased in light and dark shadows and reminds one of the disco eras and dancing from dusk until dawn. I decided that with my piece I wanted to make a statement along the lines of how Daley’s piece impressed me, by bringing beauty to the afro, however by replacing the body with a rose, deemphasizing the importance of the size or shape of the body. The rose replacing the body to me was as beautiful, as naturally sweet-smelling and sometimes thorny as we grow older, as the body can be (Springgay, 2008).

Dewey (1934) discusses how the impulsion goes through many obstacles and challenges once out of the body (Dewey, 1934). Challenges include whether there is an audience for it? Worries about how it will be perceived? In this case, I received many favourable comments from friends and family.

hooks (2000) says that many black people do not see the visual arts as important in the struggle of black folks, they instead turn to the media arts. Is my art currently hanging in my bedroom changing the world? Is it causing people to think differently? This is what the artwork of Mierle Ukeles does with her mechanical, industrial and environmental artwork (Oregon Public Broadcasting, 1997). My artwork started a surge of the participants in my online course expressing themselves artistically.

I took three photos of the painting and I posted them up for participants in my politics of black hair online course. I received some favourable comments. It encouraged a discussion about art, as well as some participants searching for other artistic material to add to the online course content, such as poetry by Una Marson Kinky Hair Blues (1931). It also encouraged the daughter of one of the participants to agree to have her poem Do You Hair Me? (Oshibajo, 2006) posted up on the course content. As well, Remi Oshibajo gave me permission to use her poem for my dissertation.

Dewey (1934) notes that the purpose of art is to create more order and unity – this is exactly what my art accomplished through my online politics of black hair course which had at that time in late August about 24 active participants. The majority of the participants are black females that feel positively about natural black hair. Abreu (2009) expresses what he has managed to create through the art of music with his youth orchestra in South America. My online course started in July of 2010 and I have already seen participants getting jobs and feeling the inspiration to create their own jobs, as well as express their creativity. It is an ideal environment for the participants to feel safe to express themselves.

As Dewey (1934) goes on to say, I felt a great feeling of happiness at the completion of the work of art. It was difficult however during the process, as I know the creation process I am most familiar with when it comes to writing.

This painting is an expression of my light (Lorde, 1968/1984). It a creation out of my soul and represents my magic within. It has been shared with others and well received. It is indeed art.


Abreu, José. (2009). On Kids Transformed by Music. TED Talks. [Video].
Butterfield, Joan. (2010). From the Soul COLOURblind 2010 Royal Ontario Museum. [Art Exhibit].
Dewey, John. (1934/2005). Art as Experience. New York: Perigee [AE].
hooks, bell. (2000). Art is for everybody. In D. Chasman and E. Chian (eds.), Drawing us in, (pp. 96-104). Boston: Beacon.
Lorde, Audre. (1968/1984). Poetry is Not a Luxury. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, (pg. 36-39). New York: Norton, Quality Paperback Book Club.
Marson, Una. (1931). Kinky Hair Blues. Kingston: Gleaner.
Oregon Public Broadcasting. (1997). A World of Art: Works in Progress. Annenberg Media Initiative. Mierle Ukeles.
Oshibanjo, Remi. (2006). Do You Hair Me? The Politics of Black Hair Online Course. July 19, 2010 to present.
Springgay, Stephanie. (2008). Body knowledge and curriculum: Pedagogies of touch in youth and visual culture. NY: Peter Lang.

Painting Black Woman with Afro embodied by a Rose and Based in Water is Not Art

Donna Kakonge\’s Painting – Photo Courtesy of Donna Kakonge


I tried to get my artwork displayed at One Love, a vegetarian restaurant northwest of Bathurst and Bloor in Toronto; however, another artist had already reserved the space.

The same artist has a mural on the outside wall of the building where the restaurant is of tropical birds and an environmental scene. This sets up the dynamic where if what I do is art is compared and contrasted with other artists. Obviously, according to the restaurant owner, I did not measure up to the talents of the young mural artist, emphasizing the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder (Dewey, 1934). The restaurant is run by what I believe to be Rastafarians. Perhaps perception, however, I could sense from the owner of One Love that something depicting a black female may be something she thinks will turn away white patrons. She may be right since her restaurant brings a diversity of customers although the cuisine is uniquely Caribbean.
hooks (2000) says that many black people do not see the visual arts as important in the struggle of black folks, they turn to the media arts. For visual art representations of black folks in the public realm, there are few. Even the ROM showcases very few black faces, other than Nelson Mandela, in works of visual art. The artwork displayed in the regular exhibit of the ROM are mainly wooden carvings, displays of combs, bowls, and sculptures. Actually, paintings are scarce and the same is true at the AGO, as well as the galleries on West Queen St. West, as well as in the Distillery. So I ended up hanging up my work of art on my bedroom wall above my MacBook Pro laptop. I do not have a wide audience for it (Dewey 1934).

Again, Dewey (1934), discussing impulsion, I knew where I was going with the painting. I had it clearly planned out in my mind’s eye. I had been inspired by a painting by Toni Daley “Blame it on Boogie” that I saw at the Caribana Exhibit 2010. This too, would not make it art in Dewey’s perception.

I have not been formally trained in fine art. I took it in grade school and was always very good at it. I enjoyed it thoroughly. My background has mainly been in media arts.
My painting style is nothing like the refined, intricate and detailed sketchings of Japanese artists you see in the ROM. The very fact that the regular exhibit of the ROM does not contain a heavy visual art collection of African or Caribbean art, rather mostly wooden sculptures and textiles – does this mean I was not even born to be considered an artist at this place and time in society?

As Davis (2005) describes the fictional Octavia and her unaware whimsy while creating her art, I do not tend to operate as a child when producing my art. My “U’s” probably are adult-like, being trained for many, many years in the art of penmanship before computers, as well in the art of writing throughout my education and career. To Davis (2005), I may not be viewed as an artist, or what I produce to be artwork at all. As well, it does not sit prominently in a gallery such as the ROM or AGO. I highly doubt if Davis (2005) would view me to be an artist, or she would see the work that I do only benefit those of the group to which I belong to and unable to reach or affect others.
As Graham (1998) writes about the art of being a dancer, I do not train every day to be a visual artist. I taught a Dramatic Writing course at Ryerson University over the summer and there was a student in my class who would constantly sketch. She sketches all of the time, and also works as a court reporter in movies and does animation as part of her career. Unlike Graham or my former student, I have not ever made a single penny from what I can recall from my artwork.

When I was 6-years-old, a picture I did in grade 1 was put up at a hospital. This is the only time my artwork has had a public viewing. Perhaps to the public view, to the public eye and to my audience, my artwork has lost something as Davis (2005) states in Framing Education as Art.


Butterfield, Joan. (2010). From the Soul COLOURblind 2010 Royal Ontario Museum. [Art Exhibit].
Davis, Jessica. (2005). Framing Education as Art: The Octopus has a Good Day. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dewey, John. (1934/2005). Art as Experience. New York: Perigee [AE].
hooks, bell. (2000). Art is for everybody. In D. Chasman and E. Chian (eds.), Drawing us in, (pp. 96-104). Boston: Beacon.
Graham, Martha. (1998). I am a dancer. In The Routledge Dance Studies Reader, (pg. 66-71). New York: Routledge.