Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mourning Portraits: New Orleans

Hair has a long history in its association with mourning. It's the one part of the body that can be held onto after death. It's both physically intimate, yet as a small piece of that person, it also reminds us how they are truly gone. Hair is both sentimental yet haunting, enticing yet foreboding. The Victorians used the hair of the departed to create mourning jewelry, yet the hairwork is very stylized and loses its sense of physicality. It's almost disguised.

In the series Mourning Portrait sculptor Loren Schwerd has found a way to use human hair in a series of works that evoke the loss of home - in this case, homes in New Orleans that were destroyed in the flood. The use of human hair plays on the persistence yet fragility of these homes - still there, but barely. It's all that's left. In some cases the hair spills out of the frame, refusing to be either contained or forgotten.

Here is the artist's statement:
Mourning Portrait, is a series of memorials to the communities of New Orleans that were devastated by the flooding which followed Hurricane Katrina. These commemorative objects are made from human hair extensions of the type commonly used by African-American women that I found outside the St. Claude Beauty Supply. The portraits draw on the eighteenth and nineteenth-century tradition of hairwork, in which family members or artisans would fashion the hair of the deceased into intricate jewelry and other objects as symbols of death and rebirth. Working from my own photographs I weave the hair into portraits of the vacant houses of the Ninth Ward neighborhood. By documenting private homes, I venerate the city's losses, both individual and collective.

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