For Shani Crowe, braids aren’t a fashion trend?—?they’re part of a global cultural heritage.
Shani Crowe is a Chicago-based artist whose magnificent braids tell a powerful narrative of black hairstyles throughout time.
The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) recently displayed Crowe’s exhibit “Braids,” consisting of five photographs of women wearing her creations. Her artwork has also been featured in three Chicago solo exhibitions, which include black-and-white photographs of models sporting her intricate, braided dos. Crowe styles and photographs everything herself, and her series is an ode to black women.
To Crowe, braids represent a part of her own cultural narrative. Growing up on Chicago’s south side, Crowe’s female family members braided her hair every two weeks, and she picked up the skill from watching her relatives braid. “When I was around 11, and my aunts couldn’t execute the designs I wanted, I began braiding [on] my own,” the artist told Refinery29. “I was a walking advertisement for myself, and ended up attracting clientele.”
The braid creations include majestic, woven designs that resemble hearts, headdresses and crowns. Crowe is inspired by gods, goddesses and the hairstyles of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana and Nigeria.
Recently, Solange Knowles enlisted the help of Crowe for her “Saturday Night Live” performance hairstyle. Using 5,000 Swarovski crystal beads, it took Crowe nearly 50 hours to complete the braided halo. It was made from “over a hundred feet of braided hair layered and wrapped around an armature,” according to the Fader.
Crowe’s artwork reflects the sentiment behind Solange’s critically-praised album “A Seat at the Table.” The singer’s work embodies the pain and pride of being a black woman in America, even referencing the vulnerability—and significance—of her own hair.
“Braiding is a sacred art in a lot of ways because it’s so rich in tradition?—?a lot of times we don’t really understand how much it means,” Crowe tells Fusion. “Because [braids] are coming out in pop culture and being exploited as a trend in the fashion scene, I think it’s important for me to honor them, before there’s a time when people don’t even remember them as a traditional black art.”
Crowe is telling the narrative of powerful black women over time by integrating their traditional designs into modern art. As Crowe says about her artwork, “It’s an unapologetic assertion of my pride in my braid art, my culture, and my African ancestry.”