What is “Good Hair”? – Yiara Meets Liela Touré

Yiara’s Amelia Wong-Mersereau speaks with artist Liela Touré (BA Communications, Concordia) about her performative piece “Good Hair”. An interview to discuss the recent performance piece by Liela Touré at Oboro in Montreal. This durational performance entitled “Good Hair” calls the viewer to consider the body, the gaze, and the politics of race and gender with regards to beauty. This project was fueled by Liela’s frustration at the lack of images and representations of young black women in mainstream culture. The following is a brief conversation that Amelia had via email with Liela, who is currently in Copenhagen for her studies.

Amelia Wong-Mersereau de Yiara discute avec l’artiste Liela Touré (BA Communications, Concordia) à propos de sa plus récente performance à Oboro, Montréal. Cette longue performance, “Good Hair” suscite la considération du corps, du regard et de la politique en rapport avec la beauté. Ce projet s’émana de la frustration de Leila Touré provenant du manque d’images et de representations de jeunes femmes noires. Ci-dessous, une brève conversation qu’Amelia a pu entretenir via email avec Liela, qui est actuellement a Copenhagen pour ses études.

 


 

What is “Good Hair”? Yiara Meets Liela Touré

Interview by Amelia Wong-Mersereau

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.”

  • Maya Angelou “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise, 1978

On November 25th, 2015, Concordia undergraduate Liela Touré (BA Communication Studies) sat in Oboro’s New Media Lab for four hours. This durational performance entitled “Good Hair” calls the viewer to consider the body, the gaze, and the politics of race and gender with regards to beauty. This project was fueled by Liela’s frustration at the lack of images and representations of young black women in mainstream culture. The following is a brief conversation I had via email with Liela, who is currently in Copenhagen for her studies.

Amelia: With regards to posture, relaxing and tensing, did you become aware or hyper aware of your posture and how that affected your whole body, in those hours sitting there? The audience was focused on your back so much, and we could see your breathing… how much were you thinking about all that in your silence?

Liela: Yeah, it was impossible not to consider my posture during the performance. In life, your posture communicates so much about your mood, attitude, approachability etc… Not having any kind of speech or vocal interaction with my viewers made it that much more important to have a strong posture during the 4 hours, allowing me to communicate through my body. All this to say, yes, I was very aware of how my body relaxed, tensed and moved during those 4 hours.

A: I was wondering if you felt more vulnerable and exposed than if you had been comfortably seated on a couch or armchair for example? Because you seemed to almost never break your gaze into the mirror at yourself, never resting your neck to look away or down or to the side. How did this tension affect the rest of your body?

L: Yes, at a certain point, I reached such a transfixed state! It’s almost like a meditation. By gazing through the mirror at myself or the viewer… actually helped that! It allowed me to focus on a single thing, which helped to stable my mind. Your mind becomes clear and you don’t think about yourself or even bodily needs. Although when the performance was over I realized how badly I needed to stretch out. I think what made me feel vulnerable was more so my natural hair on display rather than the setup of the performance.

A: And about your thoughts, what did you find yourself thinking about, looking into the mirror? Because you were confronted with yourself for so many hours, were there moments that were empowering or difficult perhaps?

L: Definitely, as this was my first performance before doing this I kind of asked myself “wow, am I really about to do this?”. I found myself really focusing on staying in the performance mentally and physically. Sometimes my mind would wonder but overall I was really focused on mentally staying in the performance. As I saw my hair grow in the mirror, it was pretty therapeutic. To see it get larger in its natural beautiful-ness – which I never do on a regular basis. It forced me to look at myself and hair and accept it, see it in a different light which was such a great experience.

A: And with regards to the hair in the jar at the entrance, what will you do with it?

L: I’m going to keep it. Forever! It acts as a physical representation of the performance.

Photos by Kate Lissitsa

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