The first speaker at February’s Nicer Tuesdays was London-based visual artist, Rhea Dillon. Discussing her inspirations and influences, she took the crowd through her most recent video project, Process on black hair, beauty and culture.
“I’m obsessed with what it means to be a master and the mastery and origins of art and how that creates movement. I quite often link that movement and those origins to the movement and the body of the African diaspora,” began Rhea. Referencing concepts similarly engaged with by her artistic hero, Kerry James Marshall, she explains that though afro-futurism is important, changes to the black experience can be made now. “What matters even more is the perspective of blackness on a day-to-day level and the humanisation of black body visuals.”
Rhea then explains how the video platform Nowness approached her to discuss her vision of the future of beauty. Inspired by themes of reflection in Japanese video artist Takahiko Iimura’s work, she too sought to reflect and refract society’s perceptions of blackness, and how things are expressed from one body to another.
She says although it was obvious to go down the route of Afro-futurism, she instead opted to think about her previous experiences, what she can take from them, and how they can be utilised to make change in the short-term. “I thought back to times of when I was quite low and depressed, and I realised it was very much in connection to my hair not reflecting society’s standards of what is beautiful.”
Alongside her research into the presence of afro hair in TV and film – or lack thereof – she applied these experiences to the project, which showcased the stages of caring for afro hair and touched upon brutality against black people in society. The film was partially soundtracked with clippings from the police calls that were made during the time of Trayvon Martin’s death, and the speech given by his father following the event, tying in with Rhea’s perception of afro hair as “a crown that is laden with politics”.