“Hair, the most ubiquitous of Hennessy’s materials, is also the most potent and easily misunderstood component of her textile work… In his 1987 essay ‘Black Hair/Style Politics,’ scholar Kobena Mercer mines through these varied manifestations of black hair within a cultural context. Mercer states that hair is second only to skin-color as ‘the most tangible sign of racial difference.’ In lieu of skin, hair stands in.”
Angela Hennessy’s solo exhibition When and where I enter showcases new large-scale sculptural works exploring racialized identity, visibility, and materiality. Hennessy’s textile-based practice often addresses cultural narratives of the body and mortality. These newly commissioned installations of woven, crocheted and braided synthetic and human hair boldly reclaim delicate Victorian-era crafts of mourning ritual, layered with signifiers of race, femininity and sensuality.
In her essay for the exhibition’s accompanying brochure, Elena Gross states, “Approaching black equally as material, color, and concept, Hennessy weaves, braids, and constructs the complicated relationship between blackness, black bodies, and white space.” The title of the exhibition is taken from an essay by feminist scholar Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964):
Only the black woman can say when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.
Cooper was a deeply influential early voice of black feminism and an advocate for black women as leaders in African-American and feminist movements of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Both Cooper and Hennessy acknowledge the importance of claiming space as a black woman; Hennessy’s work claims the gallery space with a dramatic weight and liberatory, joyful expansiveness.
Hennessy is an Associate Professor at CCA and lectures and leads workshops on the decolonization of death and grief. She has exhibited at the Bellevue Arts Museum, Exit Art, Ampersand International Arts, Pro Arts Gallery, The Richmond Art Center, The Small Gallery, and The Oakland Museum of California. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and was featured in the Journal of Cloth and Culture and in Julia Bryan-Wilson’s recent book, Fray: art and textile politics.
Highlights from When and where I enter:
All photos by Cranium Corporation