Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure

(Performed first at Avenue 50 Studio, Seven Beauties Exhibition, Los Angeles, CA, June 2, 2013)

Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure is an installation and public engagement ritualistic performance which uses tropes of Afro-Cuban religious folklore to explore the psyche and self-perception of the colonized Black woman. It raises awareness of the pervasive subconscious association of Blackness with wrongness, as evidenced in commonplace expressions such as “good hair” versus “bad hair.”  Such dilemma is the root of the trauma we Black women have experienced with relation to our hair.  The examination of these learned subconscious feelings of inadequacy, reflected in hairstyle, speaks to a larger audience.  It creates conversation about the collective unconscious dependency born out of colonialism.

(scroll down for performance abstract)

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Lili Bernard.  Poster of Bottle Label for Oshun Hair Oil, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, 2014. Digital Print, 31″x39″

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Lili Bernard. Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure Installation for Performance (Altars that Double as Hair Salons for the Orishas Oshun, Nana Baruku, Yemaya and their Associated Saints La Virgen de La Caridad Del Cobre, Santa Ana and La Virgen de Regla, respectively), 2014. Acrylic Paint, Costume Jewelry, Sea Shells, Blow Dryers, Hair Oil, Mirrors, Afro Picks, Hair Combs, Basket, Bread, Ribbon, Steel Pails, Fans, Plastic Bottles, Straw, Wood, Cotton Towels, Peacock Feathers, Mop. Size varies.

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Lili Bernard. Oshun Altar/Hair Salon, 2014. Mixed Media, 40″x30″x24″

PERFORMANCE ABSTRACT (scroll down for more photos)

The performance thematically highlights the socio-psychological affects of Criolization by incorporating the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, which arose from the syncretism of Catholicism and the African faith known as Ifá. The Orishas (African deities) and the Catholic Saints (with which they are syncretized) are represented by the performers and in the heavily codified installation, which contains alters that double as hair salons.

Two Young Boys (my sons Joshua and Uriel in costume) portray the Orisha Elegua and El Santo Niño de Atocha (the Christ Child) with whom Elegua is syncretized. Three Black Women portray the water Orishas and their syncretized Catholic Saints: Yemayá who is syncretized with La Virgen de Regla, Oshun who syncretized with La Virgen de La Caridad del Cobre and Nana Baruku who is syncretized with Santa Ana who is the grandmother of Christ. The Three Black Women are all wearing white robes, each seated at a designated hair salon station.  Free from chemical processing, their hair has been straightened by heat, prior to the performance.

A Singer enters, singing Ave Maria throughout. Volunteer Audience Members comb and brush the straightened hair of the Three Black Women. Elegua and El Santo Niño de Atocha, reenacting folklore, assist the Volunteers. The Singer ceases singing Ave Maria as Afro-Cuban Singers, Drummers and Dancers enter, performing throughout.  With the help of the Audience, the Three Women ceremoniously douse their hair in water and dry it to reveal their natural Afros. Underneath the robes, the Three Women are each wearing the same T-Shirt, which is appropriated from the posters of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, on which black letters on a white background, read “I AM A MAN.”.

Other Women with straightened hair, and with the same T-shirt also hidden underneath their street clothes, are planted in the audience. They volunteer to have their hair ceremoniously doused and dried. At the end, the Three Women who played the water Orishas take off their white robes.  The women from the audience who were planted and “volunteered” take off their top layer shirt. Resulting is a line of women, with naturally puffy hair, all wearing black T-shirts that say, “I AM A WOMAN” in white letters. 

I performed the piece as a solo experimental work (as Oshun) at Torrance Art Museum’s Mas Attack exhibit on October 12, 2013 and at Avenue 50 Studio in Los Angeles, in June 2013, for the Seven Beauties exhibition, curated by artist José Lozano and featuring the works of seven female Los Angeles-based artists: Kim Abeles, Leigh Salgado, Rochelle Botello, Poli Marichal, Stephanie Mercado, Linda Arreola and Lili Bernard.

On April 27, 2014, during my MFA Solo Thesis Exhibition at the Leimert Park Vision Theatre, we performed the entire piece for the first time, as an ensemble. I played Oshun-Caridad, Tonya Ingram played Yemaya-Regla and Lena Cole Dennis played Nana Baruku-Santa Ana. Kati Hernandez and company performed Afro-Cuban dance and Baba Craig Ramos sang Orishas with his company of Afro-Cuban percussionist. 

Below are some pictures of the performances and my artwork used in the performance.

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Baba Craig Ramos (Santeria priest) and Company perform for Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA 

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Yemayá Altar-Hair Salon Station, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Poster and Bottle Label for Yemayá Hair Oil, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA. Model: Tonya Ingram

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Audience volunteers help comb straightened hair, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Percussionist  Bobby Wilmore (left) and Baba Miguel Garcia Villamil (right), Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Poster and Bottle Label for Nana Baruku Hair Oil, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA. Model: Lena Cole Dennis

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Volunteer audience members comb straightened hair, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Volunteer audience members combed straightened hair, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

Lili Bernard. Oshun-Caridad Altar-Hair Salon for Donning & Dismissal of the Conqueror's Coiffure, 2014. Wood, Acrylic Paint, Costume Jewelry, Cowries, Blow-Dryer, Afro-Pick, Comb, Towel, Metal, Mirrors, Fan, Peacock Feathers, Nail Polish, Glass Bottle, Pennies, Butterscotch Candy, Brass Bowl, 36”x26”x26”

Lili Bernard. Oshun-Caridad Altar-Hair Salon for Donning & Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, 2014. Wood, Acrylic Paint, Costume Jewelry, Cowries, Blow-Dryer, Afro-Pick, Comb, Towel, Metal, Mirrors, Fan, Peacock Feathers, Nail Polish, Glass Bottle, Pennies, Butterscotch Candy, Brass Bowl, 36”x26”x26”

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Kati Hernandez dances Yemayá, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Hair Baptism, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Katie Hernandez dances Yemayá, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Dancer Dominique Labat volunteers to get her hair baptized, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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My professor Karen Moss gets her hair wet, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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I AM A WOMEN T-shirts appropriated from 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike I AM A MAN Posters. Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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I AM A WOMEN T-shirts appropriated from 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike I AM A MAN Posters. Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Kati Hernandez dances Oshun, Baba Craig Ramos sings Orishas, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Kati Hernandez dances Ruumba, Baba Craig Ramos and Company on Vocals and Percussion, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Dominique Labat Praise Dance, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Roger Guenveur Smith performs Rodney King, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA

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Tonya Ingram performs Spoken Word, Lili Bernard MFA Thesis Exhibition, Leimert Park Vision Theatre, April 27, 2014, Los Angeles, CA  

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure by Lili Bernard, performed here Torrance Art Museum, Mas Attack Exhibition, October 12, 2013

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure by Lili Bernard, performed here Torrance Art Museum, Mas Attack Exhibition, October 12, 2013

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure by Lili Bernard, performed here Torrance Art Museum, Mas Attack Exhibition, October 12, 2013

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure by Lili Bernard, performed here Torrance Art Museum, Mas Attack Exhibition, October 12, 2013

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure by Lili Bernard, performed here Torrance Art Museum, Mas Attack Exhibition, October 12, 2013

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure by Lili Bernard, performed here Torrance Art Museum, Mas Attack Exhibition, October 12, 2013

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure by Lili Bernard, performed here Torrance Art Museum, Mas Attack Exhibition, October 12, 2013

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure by Lili Bernard, performed here Torrance Art Museum, Mas Attack Exhibition, October 12, 2013

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Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure by Lili Bernard, performed here Torrance Art Museum, Mas Attack Exhibition, October 12, 2013

My son Joshua as El Santo Niño de Atocha

My son Joshua as El Santo Niño de Atocha. PHOTO Isaiah B. Ferguson 2013

Santo Niño de Atocha's Basket & Elegua's Throne, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard 2013

Santo Niño de Atocha’s Basket & Elegua’s Throne, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard 2013

My sons Uriel as Elegua and Joshua as Santo Niño de Atocha

My sons Uriel as Elegua and Joshua as Santo Niño de Atocha. PHOTO Isaiah B. Ferguson 2013

Elegua's Staff, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard 2013

Elegua’s Staff, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard 2013

Butterscotch candy as an offering. Oshun's Station, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard, 2013

Butterscotch candy as an offering. Oshun’s Hair Salon, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard, 2013

Oshun's Station, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard, 2013

Detail of Oshun’s Hair Salon, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard, 2013

Oshun's Blow Dryer, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard 2013

Oshun’s Blow Dryer, Mixed Media, by Lili Bernard 2013

Introduction of my daughter Zion

Introduction of my daughter Zion. PHOTO David Morin 2013

Introduction to Ifá and the Orishas

Introduction to Ifá and the Orishas. PHOTO David Morin 2013

Audience members, Claudia Jones and Kenturah Davis, heat straightening my hair with a hot comb and flat iron

Volunteers, Claudia Jones & Kenturah Davis straighten my hair with hot comb and flat iron. PHOTO Isaiah B. Ferguson 2013

My sons Joshua as Santo Niño de Atocha and Uriel as Elegua

My sons Joshua as Santo Niño de Atocha and Uriel as Elegua. PHOTO Isaiah B. Ferguson 2013

Washing of the hair

Washing of the hair. PHOTO Isaiah B. Ferguson 2013

Like being baptized

A baptism. PHOTO Isaiah B. Ferguson 2013

Audience members rinse my hair.

Audience Volunteers rinse my hair. PHOTO Isaiah B. Ferguson 2013

Audience member (Raksha Parekh), wearing a burlap smock, mops the floor, portraying Babalu Ayé.

Audience Volunteer, Raksha Parekh, dons burlap and mops the floor, as the Orisha Babalu Ayé. PHOTO Kim Abeles 2013

Back to the natural

Audience Volunteer, Poli Marichal (an artist in Seven Beauties), assists in the drying. PHOTO Isaiah B. Ferguson 2013

Volunteers fan me and dry my hair to reveal my natural Afro, per Elegua's delight.

The fanning and blow drying of the hair to reveal my natural Afro, per Elegua’s delight! PHOTO Isaiah B. Ferguson 2013