Sula Fay, 21 years old, collects her hair to turn it into embroidered and delicate pieces of art.
On her website, the New York artist explains “being of half African and Puerto Rican descent I inherited very naturally curly hair. Alongside my white-skinned, long, straight-haired friends, I felt different and unattractive.” Her complex resulted in her spending hours brushing, combing and straightening her hair. An exhausting process that she compares to the process of her embroideries: “To embroider with my hair I have to straighten each piece separately”. The least we can say is that she is diligent and devoted!
Then comes the embroidery. Sometimes it depicts some curvy, hairy and naked bodies, sometimes all the attention is focused on a pejorative adjective. It is her way to express her personal experience and denounce the ideals of beauty and femininity of the Western culture.
On a more general note, I love Fay’s working atmosphere. I have chosen to focus this article on her “hair embroideries” but all her projects are clearly linked by a common thread and are definitely worth a look if, just like me, you’re fond of “hair”, “embroidery”, “weaving”, “origins” and “old traditions”.
When we look at your hair embroideries and the paragraph dedicated to it on your website, we can interpret them as a way to deal with your “hair complex”. Have you ever consider your creative process as art therapy?
Yes, definitely. These embroideries are the first time that I began to express my turmoil with my hair outside of my diary. The embroideries began about a year after I had stopped straightening my hair and began to accept my natural curls. I felt and still feel that I needed to deal with all the years I spent denying myself of who I was or how my hair natural was.
Do you believe that sometimes what you think is your biggest weakness can reveal itself to be a real strength?
Absolutely. After this project I began making art that was often times painful, but needed to happen. For me it’s a way of working through things that are often unresolved for me. Making these things helps me to face it head on instead of repressing. By revealing something private about myself, I hope to establish an intimacy with the viewer.
Since you seem to be interested in old art traditions, have you ever tried to make yourself some hair jewellery?
I have never tried to make any hair jewelry although I do have some Victorian hair jewelry that has been passed down from relatives. I have no interest in jewelry making, but I love owning pieces and seeing where these traditions come from.
What are you working on at the moment? Do you have any “hairy projects” planned?!
I am learning how to spin yarn and hopefully will be spinning my own hair into yarn.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from?
I was born in New York City, but was raised in Los Angeles, California. My father is Afro-Puerto Rican and my mother is Jewish Euro-American.
Apart from this particular type of embroidery, I have seen some weavings on your project A note on hair and mourning. Do you particularly enjoy working with thread and hair? How do you explain that?
I have worked a little bit with other kinds of hair, particularly weaves and synthetic hair. There’s an intimacy in working with hair and with textiles in general that I really like. However, it’s also clear from the title that I was working through a theme related to the hair embroideries—the painful grief related to hair and appearance.
“Blanquita”, “comely”, “bedraggled”, “beastly”: were these adjectives given to you as “nicknames” when you were younger?
Some of these words were used as nicknames, others are words I felt I had ascribed to myself.
Why did you choose to embroider on doilies?
Because doilies are associated with Victorian decor, I thought this related back to the Victorian traditions of using human hair. They also are a material that aesthetically relate to ideas of femininity and virginity because of the color and the weaving, usually that were done by women. Because I am a woman and my pieces were designed to associate with femininity, and because textiles are a very stereotypically domestic and feminine practice, I thought the doilies lent themselves perfectly as a canvas.
All this is very inspiring, thank you for answering this interview Sula!
And if these hairy art pieces inspire you as much as me, check out Sula Fay’s website!