The art of black hair and politics

Published: Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 3:44 p.m.

New York artist and Gainesville native Kenya Robinson uses synthetic hair, combs, brushes, picks, bobby pins, transparency film, string and other hair products to create works of art showcased in "HAIRPOLITIC: Pomade in America," a mixed media exhibit that explores black hair and iconic images of beauty.

Robinson, 32, said "politics" is the process by which groups of people make decisions, and "HAIRPOLITIC" emphasizes style and adornment in an attempt to open dialogue about choices.

"HAIRPOLITIC: Pomade in America" runs through March 14 in the Main Gallery at the Thomas Center, 302 N.E. Sixth Ave.

Robinson will be available to discuss her artwork during a reception to be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 12.

Erin Friedberg, visual arts coordinator for the city of Gainesville, said it's fitting that Robinson's exhibit will run during Black History Month, which is celebrated in February, because Robinson incorporates African-American history into her art.

"Kenya's exhibition is intriguing and fascinating," Friedberg said. "I find the entire concept, her technique and aesthetic ability so unique and refreshing. It's a privilege to show her work."

Robinson said "HAIRPOLITIC" continues to influence her creative choices.

She said the exhibit will feature 30 pieces that represent her creative evolution and includes works from a past exhibit titled "HAIRPOLITIC: The Pursuit of Napiness," as well as her exploration into multimedia.

"I try to address perspectives in current, popular culture," Robinson said in a phone interview. "High or low culture, it's still culture."

Robinson made her artistic mark in the Big Apple in 2008 with "HAIRPOLITIC," which was exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art in Brooklyn.

Recently, Robinson was one of 20 visual artists chosen to receive the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Residency award, which includes studio space in the Financial District in Lower Manhattan. She said 1,000 artists applied for this prestigious award.

"This a major coup for me," Robinson said. "I'm the only one (of the chosen) who has not gone to a formal art school. I'm self-taught."

Robinson's life revolves around art, and a consulting job pays her bills. She's a designer for SueDevitt, an online cosmetic company.

Robinson grew up and attended schools in Gainesville, including Lincoln Middle School, Gainesville High School and the University of Florida. Her father, Lindsey Robinson, and her grandparents, Delia and Horace McKnight II, reside in Gainesville.

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