Wendy Owusu quietly explores the rich history of Black hairstyles through the lens of a camera
The artist works across multiple disciplines such as textiles, styling and film after realising that focusing on a more practical career wasn’t fulfilling to her truest self.
Hairstyles are never just about hair. For many of us, they are part of our heritage, a sign of where we came from, and of who we want to embody. Wendy Owusu is hoping to demonstrate just that. A recent graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, Wendy explores themes of her French-Ghanaian heritage through multidisciplinary means. Hidden Heritages, Wendy’s short documentary film project, explores how African hairstyles have been indicative of a variety of social concepts like kinship, religion, and ethnicity.
Not only working with film, Wendy embodies the new generation’s grip on hybrid creativity. The artist and creative also works in textiles in order to create pieces that one can feel and touch. Pieces which embody the innermost parts of her identity which she feels are connected to her African heritage and her family.
While her film work takes on a quiet and meditative form, her clothing line is “crafty”, dynamic and louder. She hopes that by creating art through many forms, she continues to be real with herself, not selling herself short or attempting to pursue something she feels won’t represent her most authentic self.
“When I was around ten, I spent days watching video clips. I didn’t have the means to go to the cinema or museums so watching videos was a way to introduce myself to the art of filming.”Wendy Owusu
It’s Nice That: Talk me through the motivations behind Hidden Heritages.
Wendy Owusu: Two years ago, I found out that African hairstyles were used to indicate various social concepts to relate to one’s identity. I developed a strong interest in this topic and looked more into it by doing anthropological research.
I chose hairstyles for the film that were related to the model’s ethnic background. Their hair is the topic and the hairstyles also tell something about their identity. Filming was the best way to show the art of braiding.
Through Hidden Heritages, I hope people will learn how African people have developed innovative ways to identify themselves through centuries and that African hairstyles are protective, aesthetic and exist as traces of our heritages. I also hope that people, especially Black people, will have the curiosity after watching my short film to know more about hair and its meaning in their own culture.
“I tried for years to look for an educational form that would be creative but practical because I was looking for financial stability and wanted to reassure my parents about my professional choices.”Wendy Owusu
INT: How did you go about finding inspiration when beginning your film?
WO: When I was around ten, I spent days watching video clips. I didn’t have the means to go to the cinema or museums so watching videos was a way to introduce myself to the art of filming. What I liked the most at that time was Hype Williams and Nabil’s work. Most recently, I have followed the work of Rhea Dillon, Solange and Amandine Gay. I love the slowness in Solange’s work. For Amandine Gay, she does mostly documentaries and she is really good at surrounding her subject so the questions and topics are always relevant. In my style of filming, I tried to combine all of those inspirations – half documentary, half contemplative and art video.
When I think about colours, I try to do some short exercises like the colour combinations in Sanzo Wada’s book. The clothing colour tone is beige, white and brown. It fits well with Sali and Karen’s skins (the two models in the video) and for the hairstyles, it is not too disruptive. The grey concrete of the space gave a modern look for the set but was also neutral enough to highlight the people in the video.
INT: You work in textiles and fashion too, seen in your project From Abena to Gloria. What do you find interesting about working with textiles that you don’t get by working with film?
WO: From Abena to Gloria is a capsule collection where the shapes and patterns of garments were based on my family’s house and my relatives. I used the garments as a way to document my family’s social construct. With textiles, I felt more free to make literal elements such as a picture to create a pattern. For the video, I tried to be really sharp and have clear images but with fabric, I like how it can look really crafty.
I found beauty in the flaws with textile. On each garment, a label is attached and a short description explains how and why it is related to my home. For the labels, I collaborated with a graphic designer and we thought about which type would be the best for it. We also shortened the text so that it could be easily read. I have done a second photoshoot recently where, this time, every item gets to be worn by a model. I directed a team of two photographers, one stylist and several models. On a more technical level, I just enjoy how I can feel, touch and experiment with my hands the shapes, fabrics and inks of textiles.
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Wendy Owusu: From Abena to Gloria (Copyright © Wendy Owusu, 2021)
“Make sure your work will show how you want to be seen in the industry.”Wendy Owusu
INT: What did you find difficult about filming Hidden Heritages, and what did you find enjoyable about it?
WO: Filming Hidden Heritages was difficult in several aspects. The shooting took place during the pandemic so organising a team was very stressful. I was worried about the governmental restrictions, or about someone getting Covid. I had to find financial support for the material cost. It was also my first time directing a film, so when you think about an image in your head and then you execute it, it sometimes doesn’t show up as you imagined. For the post-production, it was also really important to make decisive choices for which clips to use – sometimes you can have a really great shot but it doesn’t make any sense for the project, so you can’t use it.
Creating a cohesive, artistic direction between the topics, and the writing, were really enjoyable. I created documents with mood boards for the light and with references. During the film’s shooting, I was able to tell my team how I wanted my models to be filmed. It is not easy to direct a team but I found it really satisfying to be able to exchange and learn from others. This experience gave me the desire to pursue filming in the future.
INT: If you had to pick a favourite project, which one are you most proud of and why?
WO: I think the one that I am the most proud of is Hidden Heritages because it represents all the things that I didn’t allow myself to do for years. I wrote my own story for the first time when I was seven and to represent my characters, I just drew them. Then I stopped drawing after high school, just because I thought it wasn’t the most relevant medium for me anymore. I tried for years to look for an educational form that would be creative but practical because I was looking for financial stability and wanted to reassure my parents about my professional choices. But African hairstyles, natural Black hair, was such a strong topic to me that I finally embraced my choices. I told myself, “Stop, just be real and honest with yourself, do what you want, the rest you will figure out later.” I think my ten-year-old self who was watching MTV all day would be really proud of me.
INT: What's the most important lesson your artistic practice has taught you so far?
I think as a creative it is important to follow your interest and to make sure your work will show how you want to be seen in the industry.
INT: What are you looking forward to doing in the future?
I am organising a small premiere for Hidden Heritages for all the people who helped me (financially, technically, and mentally) for the project and then the film will be exhibited during Dutch Design Week at the end of October. Ideally, I would like to do a second collection for From Abena To Gloria next year and work in Ghana for it.
I also want to continue writing fictional stories for upcoming video projects. I have been writing short stories and essays for a couple of years now and I want to see how to continue by adding video in the mix this time.
Wendy Owusu: Hidden Heritages (Copyright © Wendy Owusu, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.
Credits From Abena To Gloria
Artistic Director, Designer: Wendy Owusu
Labels Graphic Design: Dylan Fragniere
Labels Print: Peter Van Ede
Credits Hidden Heritages
Creative Director, Director, Designer: Wendy Owusu
Director of Photography: Sarah Coppet
Cinematographer: Norida Ho
Sound Design: Only One Track Prod
Voice Over: Grace Seri
Hair Stylist: Barbara Okerenta
Model One: Karen Daouda Kouadio
Model Two: Sali Ntumba Yabu Ntita