Field Notes # 3: KwaNTum — KwasMeTology
“art or practice of beauty culture,” 1855, from French cosmétologie, from Latinized form of Greek kosmetos “well-ordered,” from kosmein “to arrange, adorn,” from kosmos “order; ornament” (see cosmos) + -ology.
Cosmetology is known as “the art and science of beautifying the hair, nails, and skin.”
I believe questions reveal more than answers, so let me ask some questions of these statements about cosmetology:
- How does one practice the art or science of beautifying?
- What is beauty?
- What is well-ordered?
- How is the practice of beautifying like a cosmos?
- What is a cosmos?
- If the cosmos is already beauty manifested, are we limiting our ideas of beauty?
So much of our culture and societies limit beauty to a narrow scope for the benefit of a privileged few. But what would happen if we saw the inherent beauty of existence instead of trying to fit it into a small definition of beauty?
What is the function of beauty?
What is the function of hair?
What is the function of nails?
What is the function of skin?
What is the function of function?
Did you know flowers turns into fruits? That the root of the word function means to fruit, to bear, to enjoy, to carry, to wear, to use? What does it mean to be a beauty that only bears death? What does it mean to be a beauty that generates and fully engages in life?
I am thinking about Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic.” I am thinking of James Baldwin’s ideas about sensuality from Fire Next Time. To be able to sense the fullness of life.
Skin: A soft, flexible, porous, outer tissue that covers our bodies, whose function is protection, regulation and sensation.
Nails: The claw-like, protein plates on our fingers and toes that both protect our digits but also helps with our tactile movement with those digits, enhancing sensitivity and precision of grip by providing counter-pressure.
Hair: A protein chain used for a variety of purposes such warmth and temperature regulation, extending the sensation of touch, protection through means like camouflage, and social (and maybe even spiritual) communication. (Also, there are some fascinating theories as to why we have less hair than other animals that you should check out).
All three are part of the “integumentary system” of our bodies, basically what “covers,” protects and maintains our bodies.
Beauty: “A feature of objects that makes these objects pleasurable to perceive.” Its roots are connected to ideas of goodness and showing favor and also possibly to the word “to do” or “perform.”
But what is “goodness?” What is the “performance” or “function” of beauty?
What if the practice of beauty was a question of “what matters?”
What if the practice of beauty was a question of “understanding another’s form?”
What if the practice of beauty was a question of “the body’s constant questioning of balance?”
What if the practice of beauty was a question of “the charged synapses of connection?”
Above is one of the three art pieces of mine that will be in an upcoming exhibition about hair. For the past several weeks, I have been in a group with other artists in process, discussing the meaning of hair in our lives and producing works inspired by these discussions. This piece is called “Ntutu Isi Nkemdiche (KwasMeTology Series).” Ntutu Isi Nkemdiche means Hair on My Head, My Uniqueness. I used pieces of my dreadlocks/locs that I cut and stitched them into a constellation form on a veil/covering and painted gold on the hair. Then I painted tags brown with gold and asked questions on them followed by a sigil based on the point where the tag was connected. I wanted to show the living embodiment of the body as a series of questions and texts, connected to a larger series of connections of a cosmos. The same covering of my body like the covering of a constellation.
The other two pieces, “Samson/SameSun/SamSung/SameSong (KwasMeTology Series)” and “Theory of My Mint — The Cloud of Unknowing (Gorillai Kong at the Height of EmPire) — Collage + Sound Piece (KwasMeTology Series),” also explore this idea of hairstyling, connection, the constant rearranging of the self and redefining of beauty.
The exhibition will be in January at the Ely Center of Contemporary Art in New Haven, Connecticut, but you can also follow my instagram, @afutureancient to see more about the works and exhibition.
Let me leave you with this quote from poet Robin Coste Lewis’ interview, “Robin Coste Lewis: “Black Joy is My Primary Aesthetic:”
One thing I learned while writing Voyage is that pretty and beauty are, for me, in no way related. Pretty is a patriarchal performance. Pretty is about the male gaze, white consumption, objectification. Pretty is a part of capitalism. While Beauty is as old as dirt. Beauty is dark, complex, transformation — and not for the faint at heart. Beauty is the Sublime, which means you cannot stand in its presence, but must fall to your knees. It is often unattractive, what it brings in its hands for you and only you. And the question is always Do you have the strength to stand here and take it. That experience is often unpleasant, or it is a journey, a quest. But if it is true, that Beauty is a particular face of the Goddess, why would you ever run? Regardless of what Beauty asks of one, one must stay to the end.