First initiated by Meschac Gaba in 2005, Tresses is a series of sculptures exploring the relationship between modern cities and monumental architecture in which certain buildings become iconographic symbols of the city’s character and identity. Hair is a strong cultural signifier and is ritually linked to a person’s sense of self and identity in many cultures. Featuring famous landmarks in Paris, NYC and the artist’s hometown of Benin, the latest addition to Tresses features newly commissioned wigs of London’s most celebrated buildings.
The skyscrapers in Tresses combine fantasies of Western “power of capital” with African inspired cultural practices of hair braiding suggesting the hidden connections between global economic operations and “third-world” manual labour. Nevertheless, the works have a celebratory feel which is amplified through their presentation as performances. Worn by people from wide range of ages and backgrounds, the fantasies of globalisation are re-focused onto the public, the individuals who shape as well as are being shaped by these images. Western culture as it manifests in cities like London, Paris and NYC is not a uniform expression of Anglo-Saxon history, but a composite of influences of people of broad ethnic and regional backgrounds.
In England, the culture of hair braiding crosses South Asian and African traditions as well as influences from African American celebrities. Shoreditch, where the London performances take place, is particularly interesting because it is an area currently marked both by increasing urban development and an integrated mixture of Asian, African and Caribbean communities, all of which have close ties to contemporary hair braiding as suppliers and/or practitioners. London’s character as embodied in buildings like the Gherkin, GLA building and soon Rivington Place, is perpetually under construction and interweaves the charms of the plurality of city’s inhabitants.