It does not take much to get folks worked up about black women’s hair. For some, their personal choices about their hair become public cultural events. (See: Oprah Winfrey. Gabby Douglas. Viola Davis.) But while black women’s hair is obsessively discussed and debated, it’s rarely celebrated.
Enter Andrea Pippins. Last week the Baltimore-based graphic designer and artist released Crowns of Colorr, a four-poster series of prints which does exactly that.
Only, Pippins didn’t set out to respond directly to the neverending handwringing over black women’s hair. Pippins, who is an assistant professor of art at Stevenson University, really just wanted some good art on her walls. Newly arrived in Baltimore and with too many bare walls in her home on her hands, she decided to make the kind of art she wanted to see. Art that was inspired by her love of textiles, woodblock prints, old barbershop signs and beautiful images of black princesses like those in the classic children’s book “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters.” Art that celebrated black women’s hair in a “lighthearted” and knowing way. And thus, Crowns of Color was born.
Colorlines caught up with Pippins over email, and she shared the inspirations behind Crowns of Color and her evolving personal views on hair, as well as why she just might owe her professional career to Halle Berry.
Crowns of Color is such a vibrant and cool celebration of black women’s hair. Can you talk about your decision to give each woman a literal crown?
Because we so rarely see black women represented as free, pretty and majestic I wanted these ladies to be that in a very lighthearted way, as if they were getting their portraits printed to capture their nobility, but in the style of a barbershop sign or woodblock print. Instead of a precious painting that only one person could own, it would be more in the spirit of propaganda posters that everyone could have and hang in their homes.
Seydou Keïta’s photographs also inspired me heavily because he made everyday people look like royalty. And that’s what I wanted to replicate. These women are fun, fly and beautiful, which to me makes them noble. Initially, the series was going to be called “When They Are Noble” but that suggested that at times they weren’t. I wanted them to always be no matter the circumstance.
I also really like the play on words—the idea that black women refer to their hair as crowns. So the title of the series really leaves it up for interpretation. Is it Crowns of Color because these are royal women of color, or because their crowns are in different colors, or because their hair is in different colors?
Read more: Color Lines