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Artist puts human hair under the spotlight

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Artist puts human hair under the spotlight

A visual artist who uses human hair in her compositions opens her first solo exhibition in Hastings next month.

Aimee-Rose Stephenson received one of two $4000 Te Waka Toi scholarships at a ceremony in Wellington on Saturday.

Ms Stephenson, 23, says some people feel uncomfortable when they see her work.

She is in her second year of a Masters of Mäori Visual Arts at Palmerston North campus and is due to complete her degree in February. She joins a long line of Te Waka Toi scholars including Massey graduates Ngaahina Hohaia, Israel Birch, Glen Skipper, Aimee Ratana, Hemi MacGregor and Kelcy Taratoa.

“I’m humbled that my work was considered up to the standard of previous winners," she says. "You apply to scholarships and you’re never sure how far you will get with it. I’m stoked to have won. The money will go towards my fees and help with course costs.”

She says there is a lot to consider, particularly from a Mäori perspective, when using a medium that is body matter. “There are many issues for Mäori in relation to dealing with hair. Hair is regarded as tapu or sacred, and the head is an important and significant part of the body. Considerations include where you place it, what you hold it in and how you dispose of it.

“Hair is a potent material; I’m interested and inspired by the way the work is received. People feel uncomfortable.”

She consults two of her uncles about tikanga (protocol) issues and says they are her major critics and were apprehensive about the use of hair.

“While they did not initially understand, they realise that I am using hair in my work to challenge my own tikanga. Art should challenge boundaries.

“I have put my own hair out there in a public place and gifted pieces to people. My hair is going into another person’s space, I no longer have control over where it is placed.”

She says she explored stitching with hair, and developed a microscopic composition depicting the in-vitro fertilisation process. “Some people consider it to be an ineffable or taboo topic. I’m interested in how doctors consider hair from a scientific approach, as a code for an individual’s DNA and researched the ideas about hair from Mäori and Päkeha cultures in New Zealand."

The work submitted for her scholarship application contained images from her A Nice White Space exhibition, shown in 2006 at Te Manawa Museum, Gallery and Science Centre in Palmerston North. “The submission included a wheelchair lined – and mattresses made – with human hair.”

Ms Stephenson grew up in Palmerston North and is of Ngäti Kahungungu, Rongowhakaata, Ngäti Pahauwera ki Mohaka, Rangitäne ki Tämaki nui a Rua descent. Her parents are from Waipukurau and Waipawa in central Hawke's Bay.

Her first solo exhibition Neither hair nor there, opens on 15 September at the Hastings Community Arts Centre.

“I decided to go home to where my whänau are from. I’m nervous, as it will be my first solo show. I’ve moved away from ovarian and scientific images to stitching indicative kupu [words] with and about hair, its removal and its bodily location.”

ends


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