The Coleman Effect
Christina Coleman has been creating art for as long as she can remember. After showcasing her new installation that explores the culture (and perhaps politics) of hair, we allow her to express in her own words her evolution towards this point.
I was born in a French hospital in China town, Los Angeles, CA. I mention this because my parents always say that, and it was interesting to them the whole French hospital in China town. I'm born and raise in LA. My mother is from Fort Worth, Texas and my dad was born in LA. We have some roots in Louisiana and Texas. I'm 29 years old, born in 1984 - the disney generation as I like to call it. Everyone had a VHS collection of disney movies. My earliest memory of making anything creative for myself was the drawing of the covers of these VHS tapes. I would take the drawings to school.
My dad is an art lover and he has friends who are artists. I'm learning more and more that my aunts really love art. My Aunt Bonny always had Charles Bibs hanging from the wall. We have a Clementine Hunter piece in the house. I didn't even know who that was. I thought to myself, how is this here?! In my father's house, you don't see a lot of photos of me and my siblings. You see paintings from his friends; because his interest in art was so strong. He encouraged me, my brother, and my sister to get into art. He put us into classes on the weekend at Watt's Tower Center, on saturday morning and it was free. My mum would get upset and tell my dad not to take us to Watts "cause we'd get shot!" [she laughs]. It was something for us to go. I would take these animation classes and I also took a photography class. It was a lot of fun! I remember thinking to myself that this is something I could do in the future. I thought I was going to be an animator, then I did this animation program called CICA. Then I realized I didn't have the patience for it. Animating is a real tenacious, meticulous process. Some animators just animate rocks flying in the air all day. It is METICULOUS. So, I decided to go into visual art and fine art.
There is something to be said about an environment that encourages you to produce creatively. My mum always told me that whatever you do, you are going to have to do it for a long time, so it should be something you like. I went to visual arts high school. All the students there were really good. Oh my gosh! There was this one guy, Daniel Stone, this guy could draw anything that came into his mind. Absolutely anything! It was completely incredible to me. He would draw these comic books. It was very stimulating being in that kind of environment.
Right now I live in Austin, Texas. I came here for graduate school to get a Masters in Fine Arts which I finished in 2012. My trajectory was being born in LA, went to undergrad in LA, went to Beijing for a couple of years, came back to LA and now I am in Texas. I had gone on this exchange program for a month in the summer while I was at undergrad and I really liked it. When I was looking for a job after undergrad I decided to go to Beijing; but when I was there I kept doing art. So I decided to come back to do grad school for art. I don't think anyone needs a Masters in arts to be able to do art but I felt like there were things I didn't finish in undergrad that I felt that getting a Masters could offer me. I was a bit of a late bloomer. Those were things I did more of during my Masters. I wanted to do work that I was proud of or that I can stand by, which I have. I wanted to see a lot more art, which I have been doing now. I am developing a community of people who are interested in similar things like me.At UT, where I did my Masters, I went into the program as painting and drawing and I left as sculpture installation; but I always saw myself as not having more than one genre.
David Hammond is a big influence on me. He has laid the foundation with what he does with human hair, chicken bones, grease, that kind of thing. The longevity of being able to produce art with a material that kind of wants to not be permanent. A lot of times the work I do is bound by the limits of the materials. A lot of sculptors are really known for manipulating a material to a point that you don't even recognize it. You can have that sort of autonomy with the material you work with or that control over it but you really are bound by it. Like Ursula Von Rydingsvard. She works with wood. She is bound by the limitation of Cedar but she is able to transform it into these really great sculptors. My gosh! I have yet to see them in person.
My current body of work deals with black women’s hair. I grew up having a sort of love hate relationship with my hair. I liked it as it was but it was only when I straightened it that it seemed to be beautiful to others. So I grew up thinking I had to alter my hair in order for it to be beautiful. When I got older I realized that I didn’t like how so many methods involved in altering my hair such as straightening it, getting braids, cornrows, etc. were a struggle or were painful. I began to question why my hair the way it was naturally couldn’t be considered beautiful?.
I particularly became interested in how some black women have to deal with this idea of “good hair” and have this love hate relationship with their hair when they are very young. And so many of the materials I have used are ones popular in youth such as barrettes and ampro pro styl hair gel. In some of the work I want there to be this juxtaposition of hair care products and accessories used in ones youth and forms and shapes that represent the possibility of harm, danger, or protection, etc. I believe this happens with the staffs and spears I made as well as the large spider web installation I made.
Much of the work was inspired by experiences I have had with hair throughout my life. Most of it is me responding to, commenting on, or just depicting elements of the experiences. One such experience was wrapping ball barrettes around my hair at the ends and remembering how it hurt when I didn’t clasp it right and the tension in the elastic band loosened and started spinning backwards and hit me on my head or fingers. However not every work I produce is representative of this love hate relationship with hair. What I really came to realize was that hair for me as a black woman represents something more than just a fiber that grows out of ones head. The experiences I have had as well as reading about different cultural historical practices with hair have given me the understanding hair relates to intimacy, power, psychology, spirituality, and many more. And so in each work I create I hope to communicate that hair relates to ideas outside of its existence on our heads even ones as simple as the idea of being transported such, as in the hair arch I made.
I also realized that working with hair and hair care products directly as materials allowed me to explore my visual artistic interests such as line, texture, repetition, and simplicity of form. Sometimes my artistic interests will take precedent over the ideas about black women’s hair and vice versa but I hope to try and maintain a good balance of both.