Artist Sonya Clark Performs 'Hairdressers Are My Heroes' at University Museum of Contemporary Art

Kamala Bhagat (left) with one of her hairstyles
Kamala Bhagat (left) with one of her hairstyles

AMHERST, Mass. – An ancient African hairstyle from a sculpture will be recreated by stylist Kamala Bhagat on the head of artist Sonya Clark on Wednesday, Feb. 7 from 5-7 p.m. at the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst.

The performance, “Hairdressers Are My Heroes,” celebrates artists across time—from the original hairdresser who created the style to the sculptor who created the piece to the contemporary hair stylist and on to Clark. “Hairdressers Are My Heroes” addresses themes of artistic interpretation, anonymity and value, performative action, and social practice. The piece embraces hairdressers as artists and collapses the cultural space between hair salon and art museum. Throughout the event, Clark and Bhagat will be in dialogue with each other and with the audience.

The hairstyle that Bhagat will recreate is from the exhibit “Five Takes on African Art/42 Paintings by Fred Wilson,” which is on view at UMCA through April 29.

Clark is the 2017⎼18 Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Amherst College. She chaired the craft/material studies department for 12 years at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Her work, which often features hair and combs to speak meaningfully about cultural heritage, gender, beauty standards, race and identity, has been exhibited in more than 350 venues worldwide and is included in the permanent collection of museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, where “Hairdressers Are My Heroes” made its debut.

Bhagat hails from an artistic family. Her mother makes African dolls and her father teaches chemistry through African drumming. As a natural hair stylist, Bhagat specializes in intricate braids. She also designs clothing. Bhagat says that seeing her creations draping the heads and bodies of models motivates her to new efforts in both pursuits. Her greatest enjoyment comes when clients let her freestyle and bring forth whatever her imagination conjures.

The event is made possible with support from the UMass Five College Federal Credit Union and UMass Amherst’s Interdisciplinary Studies Institute, the Women of Color Leadership Network, Center for Women & Community and the department of women, gender, sexuality studies.