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Using her own hair to create interesting art

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Louisa Flannery creates art out of hair.

The first thing people want to know is where it comes from.

The answer? It mostly it comes from her own head, although sometimes she does shave her legs in the name of art.

“I enjoy the fact that a lot of people are not sure, and a lot of people are scared to ask,” Mrs Flannery told

The Royal Gazette. “Society assigns these taboos to disembodied hair. If it was pubic hair, that would have a whole other set of ramifications. I joked when I did a talk recently that I haven't started mining the idea of using pubic hair but I might get there at some point. I think that would blow people's minds even more. I have used hair from my armpits and legs and collected up the little bits of stubble.”

The hair was used in an art series ‘Hairy Bear, Scary Bear'. It involves a blob of hair made into a little bear experiencing different situations. In one picture monsters scream down at the tiny bear. In another, the bear stands happily under a rainbow. In March, pieces in the series will be featured in the Artists in Residence (AIR) Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. The A.I.R. Gallery formed in the 1970s. Known for its feminist outlook, it is focused on promoting artwork by women.

“I had always been interested in hair and in college I was interested in the social taboos about it,” Mrs Flannery said. “Hair is desirable when it is on a female head, especially long, flowing glossy hair, but when it is no longer on the head the attitude towards it is different. I had a roommate in college who was one of these people who would find it totally atrocious that a hair would be left in the sink. She thought it was gross and disgusting and a sign of uncleanliness. For me it was just part of the process of daily upkeep and maintenance. I had always been interested in the tactile quality of fibres, and hair is just another fibre that we generate all the time.”

She started collecting her She started collecting her own hair when she got out of the bath, by running her hands through her wet hair. She made a few necklaces out of hairballs, but didn't really know what to do with it. Then the Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation (KAF) held an exhibit featuring postcard art.

“I thought I would sew a hairball to a postcard and force someone to deal with it up close when they probably didn't really want to,” said Mrs Flannery. “The first thing someone usually does when they see hair is try to blow it away. I thought it was humourous to force someone in processing the mail, or even receiving it in the gallery on the other end, to deal with a card with human hair on it.”

But she didn't want to just send human hair, so the idea of Hairy Bear, and the little rhyme, ‘She's a Hairy Bear, She's a Scary Bear' was born. Hairy Bear made it through the mail and made it to the show.

“I have since put her through a number of different situations,” said Mrs Flannery. “The art is about my perspective and the things I encounter. Sometimes the pieces are an emotional reaction to things. I also try to pick out ways that people feel obliged to conform, or deal with issues such as self-esteem and acceptance.”

Mrs Flannery was excited to have Hairy Bear featured in the A.I.R. Gallery's 9th Biennial Show. She was one of 36 artists chosen out of 650 applications. She was also grateful to receive a grant from the Bermuda Arts Council for air travel to attend the show opening on March 3.

“From a feminist movement point of view, the A.I.R. Gallery is quite a big deal,” she said. “It's funny how feminism is a dirty word in Bermuda. I don't know why that is. In some aspects, our society is very matriarchal where the females take a very strong power role, but then in a lot of cases, women subject themselves to male-dominated society. This runs through every socio-economic level. It is not just in Bermuda, but also worldwide.”

She said she is a great admirer of a group called ‘The Guerilla Girls' which was formed several decades ago. Anonymous members give lectures, talks and performances, usually with a gorilla mask on. They have often criticised well-known museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, for underrepresenting female artists. Their opinion is that while female representation is getting better at the emerging and beginning levels of the art world, at the institutional level art auctions and major museum collections things are still “dismal for all but white guys”.

Mrs Flannery said it would be interesting to research the Bermuda art scene.

“I did a count at the recent Biennial held at the Bermuda National Gallery,” said Mrs Flannery. “There were still more white male artists than female artists and more white artists than artists of colour. Although my Hairy Bear pieces have more of a feminine art content than any of the other art I have done, I would not call myself a “feminist” artist. I am much more concerned with concepts of conformity, fairness and equality. Equality goes across the board, whether it is about ageism, racism, sexism, or whatever groups are not getting a fair shake.”

The A.I.R. Biennial runs through March 27.

Useful websites: www.airgallery.org, www.guerillagirls.com/.

She Contemplated Growing A Beard... Part of the She Was a Hairy Bear, She was a Scary Bear Series by Louisa Flannery.
She Felt Good by Louisa Flannery. Part of the Hairy Bear Series.
She felt like dirt, part of the She Was A Hairy Bear, She was a Scary Bear Series by Louisa Flannery.

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Published March 01, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated March 01, 2011 at 7:53 am)

Using her own hair to create interesting art

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