The famous line from Saint John Perse's Eloge XVII ("Quand vous aurez fini de me coiffer, j'aurai fini de vous ha ïr"), is what countless black girls must be feeling about their mothers, elder sisters or relatives during the hair-dressing ritual, the great domestic drama of all Black African women.

 

This photographic project was realized during my artist residency at Centre WAAW in Saint-Louis, Senegal in 2013. The story takes place in a women's coiffure salon in town, Chez Marieme Soda Diop - almost exclusively a women's world, and a zone of intimacy and gossip - where traditional tools and techniques are used to create an array of female hairstyles, from the quite ordinary to the almost unimaginable, as occasion dictates. Each of those coiffures requires a considerable amount of time and patience, and without doubt, a certain amount of agony and pain.

 

I was trying to capture the beauty in the making and the beauty of the making, the interactions of pleasure and pain in the process of hairdressing in this African culture, and the personal feelings involved in this 'sacrifice' to higher goals, such as one's initiation into society, one's identification with one's ethnic, cultural group and age group, one's economic status, one's religious affiliations, etc. I have tried to explore how pride and glory exact their price, and how tales of hair hopes and hair horrors accompany one another. I believe there is something in the rapport between the coiffeurs and their clients that comes prior to the final product: the intermingled feelings of tenderness, pain, obsession, seduction, confidence, rivalry, love and hate, and that this ritual, to a certain extent, lies, on the verge of a 'sado-masochistic' relationship.

 

Katarina Radovic