Philadelphia Stories of Beauty and Adornment at the Folklore Project
The Philadelphia Folklore Project announces "The Will To Adorn: Philadelphia Stories," a program devoted to exploring how people use adornment — hair, dress, style, self-fashioning— as means of self expression and community affirmation. The free event takes place at PFP, 735 S. 50th Street, on March 2, 2012, from 6 PM - 9 PM. The evening will include storytelling from members of Keepers of the Culture (KOTC), Philadelphia's Afrocentric storytelling group, story-sharing from attendees, and a screening of the award-winning documentary "Hair Stories," (1998) by West Philadelphia filmmaker, master braider and hair sculptor, Yvette Smalls.
"Hair Stories" chronicles historical and cultural issues of beauty in the African American community, and features a series of candid interviews with Sonia Sanchez, Erykah Badu, Joe Lewis and others. West Philadelphia born and raised, Yvette Smalls is widely acknowledged for her role as a vanguard braider, activist and teacher in African American hair care and beauty. Smalls says, "Hair is my artistic medium and became my mission." She began braiding, dressing and sculpting African American women's hair in the late 1970, to put herself through school. She was part of a movement of African American women rejecting definitions of "bad" and "good" hair based on European standards, and reclaiming African traditions of beauty. Her mother always told her, "Beauty is as beauty does," and the saying inoculated Smalls against some of the negative self-image she saw in others (from ages nine to ninety, she says) and set her on a journey of self-discovery. She went on to school herself in intricate and varied hair braiding, wrapping, coiling, and weaving traditions used in her own extended family across the American South, and across the African Diaspora, from Egypt to South Africa, Senegal to Kenya as an important form of creative expression representing both the individuality and social status or role of the wearer. In her own work, she draws on a wide range of styles and techniques, approaching each person's hair as the ultimate wearable art.
In 1998, Smalls completed the documentary "Hair Stories," which has been broadcast and screened in numerous film festivals around the world. Smalls has appeared at hundreds of schools and community events annually. A former board member of PFP, she was featured in PFP's "Folk Arts of Social Change" exhibition in 1999, and an exhibition on women and folk arts ("All That We Do") in 2007. (Both exhibitions can be seen on PFP's website: www.folkloreproject.org).
Keepers of the Culture (KOTC), Philadelphia's Afrocentric storytelling group, aims to perpetuate the African and African American oral tradition. They are inspired by traditional African storytellers, griots, whose role as historians of the community helped people maintain a strong, positive sense of self, and a clear understanding of the values of the community and the individual's role in the community. KOTC meets monthly at PFP. KOTC members will share stories, and facilitate a storytelling circle where all are welcome to share their own stories about how "beauty is as beauty does."
"The Will to Adorn: Philadelphia Stories" occurs in conjunction with an effort by the Smithsonian Center for Folklore and Cultural Heritage, which is undertaking a national multi-year initiative exploring how African American identities are communicated through cultural aesthetics, arts of the body, dress, and adornment.
These events occur against the backdrop of Folklore Project's current exhibition, "Cultural Exchange," which honors four local Black men who, for 40+ years, have used folk arts and trade to support community cultural development. Work by African Cultural Art Forum (Rashie Abdul Samad and Sharif Abdur-Rahim), Frito Bastien, and Isaac Maefield is on display.
Cultivating folk arts and social change since 1987, the Philadelphia Folklore Project works to build critical folk cultural knowledge; sustain vital and diverse living cultural heritage in communities in our region; and create equitable processes and practices for nurturing local grassroots arts and humanities. For more information, call 215.726.1106, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.folkloreproject.org.