Related themes

The Body in Art

Discover how artists represent and use the body to investigate their relationships to gender and identity.

Intersecting Identities

Artists often address their multiple, intersecting identities in a work of art.

Wigs (Portfolio)

Lorna Simpson
(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 work of art on paper that usually exists in multiple copies. It is created not by drawing directly on paper, but through a transfer process. The artist begins by creating a composition on another surface, such as metal or wood, and the transfer occurs when that surface is inked and a sheet of paper, placed in contact with it, is run through a printing press. Four common printmaking techniques are woodcut, etching, lithography, and screenprint.

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


AUDIO: Lorna Simpson discusses her process and inspiration for Wigs (Portfolio)

AUDIO: Lorna Simpson describes one of the text panels from Wigs (Portfolio)