Photography-based artist Tawny Chatmon celebrates the beauty of Black hair through her glittering series titled The Redemption. The collection of portraits features young people wearing their hair in an array of styles—no two are alike. But in this variety, the same visual thread is woven throughout each mixed-media piece. Chatmon paints atop the photos to adorn the kids with dazzling 24-karat gold accessories and outfits.
Each gold accent evokes the feeling of a Gustav Klimt painting, in which the shiny yellow tones are punctuated by tiny blue, red, and purple shapes. This homage to the Austrian painter’s work is intentional, and Chatmon hopes that viewers will instantly make the connection. “Visually, Klimt’s use of gold and decorative elements brought about strong feelings of grace, magnificence, and beauty within me upon my first discovery of his work and have remained in my subconscious mind ever since,” she explains in a statement about the series. “Likewise, these are the emotions I am looking to evoke within the viewer of The Redemption.”
The attitudes towards a Klimt painting are often markedly different than the opinions held of the hair types and styles that are distinctive to Black people. “While we proudly celebrate and adorn these styles with beads, barrettes, and other accessories within our cultural norms, they continue to be labeled unacceptable,” Chatmon writes. “In schools worldwide, there are rules set in place deeming cornrows, barber designs, hair beads, afros, locs, and protective styles that use hair extensions as ‘violations of the dress code.’ ‘Violations’ that are punishable by ridicule, suspension, exclusion from extracurricular activities, and expulsion.” The Redemption is not seeking validation of Black hair, culture, and tradition, but is rather affirming it through these gorgeous artworks.