(American, born 1960)
1994. Portfolio of twenty-one lithographs on felt, with seventeen lithographed felt text panels, overall: 6' x 13' 6" (182.9 x 411.5 cm)
Wigs is a collection of hair pieces, depicting everything from Afros and braided hair to blond locks and doll wigs. The twenty-one panels of wigs and seventeen smaller text panels are printed on felt—itself a material with hair-like texture. Affixed to the wall with pins, the images and text look like scientific specimens.
Simpson’s work often investigates the history of African American hairstyles and conventions of beauty. From stigma against black hairstyles to reclaiming natural hair as a sign of black empowerment, hair has taken on a variety of social and political implications. The texts range from shorter, cryptic phrases to longer anecdotes alluding to slavery, entertainment, and drag. Through the texts and images, Simpson refers to the body without including it, inviting the viewer to create narratives about who might wear these hairpieces.
A flat board, sometimes made of wood.
A term describing a wide variety of techniques used to produce multiple copies of an original design. Also, the resulting text or image made by applying inked characters, plates, blocks, or stamps to a support such as paper or fabric.
Race and the Figure
“For me, the specter of race looms so large because this is a culture where using the black figure takes on very particular meanings, even stereotypes,” Simpson has said. “But, if I were a white artist using Caucasian models, then the work would be read as completely universalist. It would be construed differently. I try to get viewers to realize … that it is all a matter of surfaces and façades.”1