Packing away equipment, furniture and piles and piles of hair, the debris from Right of Admission confronts me. I am reflective of where this body of work will go, where will it take Farieda and I next...
And I am surprised that I miss my hair. My head feels so much lighter, so small.
Thanks to Maria Fidel Regueros and Nyakallo Malake from ROOM! Dean Hutton, Mocke Van Veuren, Mildah Motshegwa, Luyanda Mpangele and the other plaiters for all of your support!
After a long day of grooming, embellishing and then removing all traces of these activities, we have been left with an enormous pile of multi-hued plastic tresses.
Arriving at ROOM Gallery, we are appraised by Maria. She measures our height, body, face, skin tone and weight. Reciting our statistics to the audience, we then take our positions before them. We invite two men from the audience to come forward and clean us. Bearing baby wipes, they carefully hold our faces and gently wipe the thick make-up from our faces/ Gone are the fake, pencilled-on eyebrows. Gone is the chalky peach foundation and blush. Gone is the dark lipstick. My skin feels tight, the astringency of the wipes making my face feel raw.
We ask the men to help us remove the plaits from our head, but they refuse. They are uncomfortable being part of this part of the process. The two men are uncomfortable with the prospect of touching our hair. Our skin is a less intimidating prospect, but these thick, coiffed manes are too much. Instead a variety of women audience members come forward to do this work.
Throughout this unravelling, we talk about Right of Admission, the concept behind the work and what drives it forward, answering questions as best we can. Finally the pile of hair grows and grows, trailing over our feet, thin strands coating us.
Arriving at Sandton, I am confronted with the sterile shine of the place. Everything gleams and promises seduction. Farieda and I move around the mall, dressed almost identically, taking it in turns to drag our "caboodle". We take selfies in front of the shops, with display items. Throughout, people watch us. If we were singular, perhaps we would not produce such a spectacle.
We enter the Woolworths store and ask for advice about different grooming procedures. We elect to have our eyebrows threaded. Taking it in turns to sit in the chair, whilst the attendant looms over us, plucking our eyebrows with thread held between her teeth, I try and ignore the pain. The pain from holding my skin taut, my hand has to press my eye deep into its socket, until it gets hot and I see stars. The attendant presses her card to me and asks to keep in touch.
Poor Farieda's skin has been irritated from the threading and has swollen over one eye. We speak to the experts but they recommend little.
Moving through the mall, we turn into Edgars and approach the make-up counters. Chanel, Bobbi Brown, Estee Lauder, Clinique... so many choices. We decide to speak to the make-up artists at Bobbi Brown, their make-up suggests that it will be the most "natural". We share the same make-up artist and again, take it in turns to receive our make-over. Farieda goes first. I am aghast as I see the thick shades of foundation, base, or whatever mark her face. As the artist, begins blending and buffing Farieda's skin, a whitish pallor sits on top of her natural brown complexion. She no longer looks like herself. And then they begin with the eyebrows.
Painting over her carefully sculpted and plucked eyebrows, she paints a heavy outline, completely obscuring Farieda's natural shape. Then comes blush, a swipe of lipstick and she's done. I'm feeling apprehensive when it comes to my time in the chair. And I'm right, when I emerge, I no longer look like myself.
I end up buying a lipstick, "Roseberry" #26.
Our selfie feed grows and grows, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook....
We decide to get some food and go and sit in a coffee shop in the courtyard, where Nelson Mandela's statue is. We wait and wait, no service. No one comes to give us menus, no one checks on us and no one takes our order. After observing that we are not going to be served, we leave and sit on one of the benches along the periphery of the square. We open our caboodle and look at its contents. The caboodle is filled with items for grooming. We take out some of the packets of hair and begin plaiting further lengths of hair onto our plaits, extending them until they drag on the ground. The strands coat my fingers.
Watching people in the square, they walk up to the giant Mandela statue and pose at his feet. People of all ages and backgrounds seem to come here to swarm at his feet and document their presence at this important signifier of South Africa and also of Sandton, a space of aspiration for many. We take our turns and pose, showing off our outfits and more importantly our hair, that billows in the breeze. A little girl says something in Afrikaans to her mother, which i can't understand. Farieda says that the little girl is talking about how long our hair is and assumes it is natural.
Leaving Sandton, we get onboard the Gautrain. We begin the hygiene process and spray ourselves with body spray, squirt mouth wash into our lipsticked puckers and chew gum. We are told we must spit the gum out as it is prohibited on the Gautrain. Surreptitiously painting our nails and slathering on more make-up, we embellish ourselves thoroughly.
The process of de-aspiring begins with the removal of our wedged high heels and putting on our house slippers.
Now that I've had my hair covered with plaits for a couple of days, I am slowly adjusting to this new feeling and this new look. I am surprised at how much I like them, but it is their weight that I struggle with. Cleaning myself, managing these plaits in the shower or the tub, is an extended process. But the ease of styling myself, where i look "done" without any effort is a bonus!
The classification continued at ROOM yesterday, where Farieda and I performed the second phase of our performance, Right of Admission. Sitting outside ROOM, we are plaited with length upon length of extensions. Passersby stop, often taking pictures or filming us without permission. We invite them to stop and encourage them to talk with us, rather than just making us into objects. Some people are curious about the project and ask us what is going on. One mixed couple stop and the lady, who is black and wears her hair in extensions, entreats her white German partner to look and see what is happening, to gain knowledge of the process, so when they are back in Germany he can answer the constant questions about why or how she has her hair styled with extensions.
During the process, people were often surprised that Farieda and I were choosing to have our hair plaited with extensions. Our hair, given our mixed heritage seems to be considered something that should not be hidden.
Eventually we were finished. Our hair had been plaited with long extensions until they reached our hips. They swished and moved like they had never moved before. The whole process took over 11 hours. By the time we had completed this process, Farieda, myself and the plaiters were exhausted.
Tonight went so quickly.
The first phase of Right of Admission began tonight.
We wore matching "nude" elegantly casual dresses with small peplums, reaching just above our knees. "Nude" tights encased our legs. Black shiny patent leather heels crushed my toes.
On entering the gallery at ROOM, audience members were invited to be classified. We provided a variety of tools for measuring: calipers for measuring small distances on the face, tape measures for measuring height as well as the contours of the body, paint charts for measuring shades of skin. Audience members were given forms to fill in, with the assistance of officials, including myself, Farieda and Nyaki. They were photographed against a "nude" background of their choice and their images logged on the computer.
The extensive measurements of weight, height, skin colour, hair texture, as well as the miniature measurements of the face were recorded as data and then uploaded onto a program on the office computer, where we would wait for an appraisal.
By performing these intimate actions and inviting audience members to fill in these forms, we hoped to engage with them by negotiating these signifiers of the physicality of the body as well as identity.
Judgements of racial classification were read out. Black! White! Coloured! Other! Indian!
The responses to these judgements varied. Some people were pleased to have a different classification than what was fixed in their minds. Others less so.
We invited the audience to classify us. So we too were measured and weighed and judged.
Farieda and I moved over to the plinth bearing hygiene tools, deodorant, body spray, mouth spray were collected there and we took it in turns to distribute these scents to mask our natural odours. Standing next to two chairs, we faced each other, slipping off our heels and taking a seat. Farieda in the chair, me seated on the floor between her legs. She undid my hair and stuck pencils into it, counting each one. 1...2...3...40...41...42... until there were no pencils left. I shook my head and all the pencils fell out. I counted them again as I picked them up and returned them to her. She took the brush and brushed my hair, lathering a think layer of gel onto it. Taking a bobble, she secured my hair into a bun and brushed it back until it lay flat against my skull. Bring a black, lace head band, she puts it on my head and pulls it forward until the top of my forehead is covered and my ears nearly obscured. She passes me small pearl earings, which I push into my ears. I am done. I am neat. I am acceptable.