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Exhibit examines aesthetics, politics of hair

November 7th, 2019

From BRAID/WORK by Sarah Beth Woods

The latest exhibit in Bethel College’s Regier Art Gallery dovetails with the 5th biennial Worship and the Arts Symposium.

“BRAID/WORK” is a collaborative art project between professional hair braider Fatima Traore and visual artist Sarah Beth Woods that investigates the transcultural histories and aesthetics of hair braiding.

The material components of the work bridge cross-cultural conversations about their disparate backgrounds and practices. Woods and Traore received the 2015-16 Crossing Boundaries Prize through Arts+Public Life & Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago.

Rachel Epp Buller, Bethel associate professor of visual art and design, schedules and coordinates the Regier Gallery’s exhibits.

“Since the Worship and the Arts Symposium is explicitly positioned this year as connecting across cultures, I thought of Sarah Beth Woods as someone whose work does just that,” Epp Buller said.

“Her recent project, ‘BRAID/WORK,’ is a collaboration with professional hair braiders. The show in the Regier Gallery is a combination of photographs and sculptures made of synthetic hair and other materials.”

Woods is a Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist whose background as a painter and critical cultural worker has led to an interest in the aesthetics and political implications of modern surfaces and the body, specifically skin and hair, saturated color and shine.

Cultural influences derived from formative years Woods spent on the Southwest side of Chicago continue to manifest in the content and aesthetics of her work, specifically black material culture and women’s conceptual spaces as sites of possibility and transformation.

Woods earned her BFA at Northern Illinois University and MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her work has been included in many U.S. and international exhibitions.

Newcity magazine named her one of the Top 5 “Subversively Conceptual Crafters” in Chicago in 2014. Woods is a 2017 3arts 3AP awardee, which supports Hear the Glow of Electric Lights, a film project investigating 1960s American music groups featuring teenage girls and young women.

“BRAID/WORK” opened Nov. 1, and Woods will be on campus Nov. 21-23, at the same time as the Worship and the Arts Symposium.

She will give an artist talk Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center as a pre-symposium event, followed by a reception at the gallery.

Nov. 22, Woods and professional hair braider Cleo Sugg, who are traveling together from Chicago, will meet with art history students to discuss an article by Kobena Mercer on the politics of hair.

Woods will give a presentation to symposium registrants on Nov. 23, and then she and Sugg will be in the gallery during the day to do hair braiding. 

“I'm excited for Sarah and Cleo to connect with students as well as community members,” said Epp Buller, “as we think together about standards and expectations of beauty and representation across cultures.”

“BRAID/WORK” will be on display through Nov. 23.

Regular Regier Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. There is no admission charge.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the highest ranked Kansas private college, at #12, in “Washington Monthly,” Top 200 Bachelor’s Colleges; ranks at #23 in “U.S. News & World Report,” Best Regional Colleges Midwest; is Zippia.com’s highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates; has the #10 RN-to-BSN program in Kansas according to RNtoBSN.com; and earned its second-straight NAIA Champions of Character Five-Star gold award, based on student service and academic achievement, all for 2019-20. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.