Natural or Synthetic Hair at Tate Modern by Lisa-Marie Harris 


When lengths of hair are completely divorced from the body, it seems all awkwardness surrounding touch gets thrown out the window, as was the case on April 27th - 28th at the Tate Exchange space in London.

Working alongside social neuroscientist and University College London senior lecturer, Lasana T. Harris Ph.D., I mounted an experimental art display on hair, prompting museum-goers to interact with the objects to determine whether the pieces were natural or synthetic in keeping with a larger Tate program on engaging with art from varying sensory perspectives

The responses came in fast and strong, as was to be expected, given some of the deep seated emotions that can surface when interacting with hair. Everyone wanted to examine the hair by touching, looking, comparing, smelling - yes, some people smelled the hair whips. (Better to tell if they smelled synthetic, like fake, 'fibrous' hair, they said...) But others were fairly disturbed by the labels attached to the hair types: straight, matted, curly. 

In particular, the 'matted' label rankled a few souls; was it not derogatory to use such a negative label on what should be called dreadlocks or at least natural, they wondered?

To which I asked, is 'dreadlocks' a hair type, or is it merely a 'style' not unlike the bob, a pixie cut, a mullet, braids, or such? Is 'matted' truly derogatory when it accurately and objectively describes a kind of hair? And furthermore, isn't it most accurate for anyone who sports completely unadulterated hair to use the term 'natural', regardless of curl pattern or ethnicity? 

We have yet to examine the basic responses to the display questionnaire, but given the kinds of opinions museum-goers voiced, I am sure whatever we find will be intriguing, for the very least. 

Thanks for coming by, and for touching up the hair. 


Lisa MarieHarris AuCourantStudio HairTate4


Natural or Synthetic Hair at Tate Modern by Lisa-Marie Harris


Image, Sculpture & Words | Lisa-Marie Harris
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