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Confession Salon / Bedroom Confession, 2020

In this diptych, the artist’s personal reflections are interlaced with quotations from Kobena Mercer’s essay Black Hair/Style Politics and Emma Dabiri’s Don’t Touch My Hair.

In Part 1 we see Niang having her hair braided in a salon in Senegal, where the large poster of a white woman is evidence of the Eurocentric beauty ideals prevalent in postcolonial Senegalese society. In Part 2 she undoes her braids in her bedroom in England. Niang says of the work:

“The pieces are a genuine reflection of my personal process of uncovering the information for the development of my hair care.”

Watercolour Portraits, 2020


A series of Watercolour Portraits are displayed in the image gallery below. Visitors are encouraged to combine the viewing of these paintings with Our Hair, a podcast produced by the artist with the five women in the portraits. Listen via the Media section below.

“By making portraits of the same people with different hairstyles, I show that there’s more to black women’s identity than natural hair.”

Inspired by Chris Ofili’s Untitled (1998) watercolour series, Niang illustrates the versatility of black hairstyling – beyond just the afro hairstyles featured in Ofili’s series – representing styles such as weaves, wigs and braids.

About the artist

As a Senegalese woman who has never resided in her home country, and has lived in both Europe and Africa, Khadija’s practice explores her feeling of being disjointed from her culture.

Khadija's work creates a space for different aspects of her heritage within a European context.

Through the mediums of film, sculptural installation, sound and watercolour, her work examines her cultural identity. In recent work, what began as a way for Khadija to reflect on her own personal relationship with her hair has become a celebration of the bond between black women through their shared experience.


Our Hair - Podcast

Our Hair vocalises the sense of community shared between five women in Khadija Cecile Niang's Watercolour Portraits series. These conversations were recorded remotely, in three different countries. In these stories there are undeniable points of connection between these black women, despite the fact that some had never met.

Confession Salon/Bedroom Confession Part 1 plain text


Part 1

My earliest memory of getting in trouble with my mum was over my hair. Whilst I was in nursery in Norway, my mum was styling my hair, and I had very specific hairstyle in mind, like the one of my French classmate, Clementine. I wanted it to be long, but it was curly and thick and short. No matter how she styled it, I was unhappy, we both grew angry and frustrated.

“Depending on the style and the size of the braids, an entire head of hair can take a long time – hours, even days – to complete. I’m reluctant to describe this process as time-consuming because I’m keen to disrupt our deeply engrained (yet recent and culturally specific) myth of time as a commodity. It makes a lot more sense to imagine braiding as a social time during which the business of living is conducted. It is a process that brings people together and facilitates intergenerational bonding and knowledge transmission.” p48

Cheryl Clarke's poem, 'Hair: a narrative', shows that the question of the relationship between self-image and hair-straightening is always shot through with emotional ambiguity. She describes her experience as implicating both pleasure and pain, shame and pride: the 'negative' aspects of the hot-lye and steel-comb method are held in counterpoint to the friendship and intimacy between herself and her hairdresser who 'against the war of tangles, against the burning metamorphosis . . . taught me art, gave me good advice, gave me language, made me love something about myself.9 Another problem with prevailing anti-straightening arguments is that they rarely actually listen to what people think and feel about it. (p. 104)

"within racism's bipolar codification of human worth, black people's hair has been historically devalued as the most visible stigmata of blackness, second only to skin" p101

My parents told me I had to wait until I was old enough to get my hair relaxed. Living in Tanzania, I insisted on wanted to do it. I wanted it to be straight, because my all my other friends got their hair relaxed. Relaxer has a very distinct, strong smell. The hairdresser told me my hair was ready to be rinsed when I started to feel a burning sensation. I loved the moment after the wash, when my hair would be silky and straight.

"we require a historical perspective on how many different strands-economic, political, psychological-have been woven into the rich and complex texture of our nappy hair, such that issues of style are so highly charged as sensitive questions about our very "identity." As part of our modes of appearance in the everyday world, the ways we shape and style hair may be seen as both individual expressions of the self and as embodiments of society's norms, conventions and expectations." p99 – 100

“I am often struck by the points of shared experience between black women when it comes to our hair, despite the fact that we might be continents apart” p23

Confession Salon/Bedroom Confession Part 2 plain text


Part 2

I remember the moment I decided to stop relaxing my hair. I was 15, flicking through the TV channels I stopped to watch the documentary Good Hair by Chris Rock. I was completely shocked by all the health risks of relaxing your hair. I then discovered the “Natural hair movement”. I spent hours on Youtube, it became a huge learning tool for me, I learned so much about its care and how much my hair is capable of. Whilst the natural hair movement was quite big back then, I feel like the dialogue on social media has shifted from just ‘embracing’ your natural hair. Now it’s about sharing and enjoying the versatility of all black women’s hairstyles, like the DMX Challenge where the challenge has users sharing videos of themselves with a multitude of hairstyles synced to the rapper's roll call.
“Many women insist that their decision to go natural is not explicitly political. The fact that they even have to state this, however, shows how far from the norm black hair is still considered to be” p39
When I started creating art about my hair, I thought this would be more of a reflective process. However it has definitely had an effect on my personal relationship with my hair, now. Through the exploration and research I've done, I feel a deeper personal understanding of the strong feelings around my hair and how much these have developed and impacted me growing up. My braids have definitely become an important part of my identity, and I hadn’t realised. I feel I’ve got back to feeling confident to always changing my hair, like I did as a child. Braiding my hair has now become a 'style', rather than a practicality and my identity - which I've had a hard time letting go of or changing over the past 4 years.
“Within a traditional West African aesthetic, the idea of artifice was often highly valued, and we know that hair was rarely, if ever, left out in anything resembling a natural Afro. The range of styles and textures that can be achieved with Afro hair - from relaxer, to weave, to intricate braiding patterns - is evidence of the expertise and creativity that black people, particularly black women, have demonstrated through their hair over millenia” p92
I realise that by never having my natural hair out for very long, I created a cycle where because I didn't make the time to learn how to style my hair, and how to maintain it and keep it healthy – it made me see my haircare as "difficult" and as "time-consuming" - after reading Don't touch my hair by Emma Dabiri, I've learned the value of reclaiming that time as a form of self-care.