You might not have heard of Shani Crowe or seen her work, but granted that is about to change. Crowe is one of the most talented artists of colour working today, especially as she finds interesting ways to intersect art, fashion and culture into projects that make a statement. An interdiscplinary art graduate from Howard University in the United states, Crowe has focused her work on Africans in the diaspora and how their hair and beauty rituals connect them to their ancestry and present communities.
Recently she went ‘viral’ for her last project, a photo series called ‘BRAIDS’ that takes the practice and techniques of hair braiding and elevates them into stratospheric levels of art. BRAIDS has drawn such conversation because of the times and the controversies that have been spawned by the persistent practice of white celebrities like Kylie Jenner and white owned media firms ‘colombusing’ traditions and practices that have existed in African societies for centuries.
Featuring complicated braiding techniques using extensions and natural hair, Crowe creates complex motifs and three dimensional headpieces, each referencing a certain culture or structure. This kind of complicated ‘haute coiffure’ is quite common among West African indigenous people and was first documented at length by Nigerian historian and photographer J.D Ojeikere. His ‘Hairstyles’ photo series are legendary in the art and fashion worlds as one of the premier curators of contemporary African fashion. Crowe’s work is a true spiritual heir.
The BRAIDS exhibition is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Art (MoCADA) Museum until July 10.