In Conversation: Rebecca Bair
“The Sun Found Me Amongst the Clouds” by Rebecca Bair featured cyanotype works created with hair monotype processes and with brushes made from hair extensions. An interdisciplinary artist, Bair’s research explores the possibilities of specific representation and identity through abstraction and non-figuration. She uses multimedia approaches to illustrate her exploration of identity and intersectionality, through the lens of her own experience as a Black Woman on Turtle Island.
Read on to learn more about Bair’s process and motivation for these works.
The cyanotypes in The Sun Found Me Amongst the Clouds were made using exposures of your hair on cotton sheets, or with brushes made from your hair. Can you tell me about the choice to show traces of your hair in your work, versus including the hair itself?RB
My work is about representation for Black women on Turtle Island, particularly of my subjective perspective as a Black woman. I think a lot about whether or not direct representation or figuration is a significant or useful tool when trying to address tropes of representation. When I allude to hair or allude to my presence, it’s because I am abstracting and obstructing one’s ability to consume images of Blackness. There are also horrible realities about how society incorrectly and violently interprets the Black body and particularly the Black female body as a touchable commodity. This happens for me most often through my hair. Consequently, I do my best not to include hair directly in my work—rather I like to create distance and use traces as a means of alluding to physicality as a means of protecting hair, representation, and my Black body.
You have mentioned that you would like your audience, specifically folks from the Black community, to see themselves within your works. What has the response been? Have you heard from folks who have seen themselves in the work?RB
The reality about work that addresses representation is that it comes from a place of specific subjectivity. I have had Black friends, fellow artists and peers who have seen the work and for whom the work has resonated. It doesn’t mean that they saw themselves in the work but rather that they could sense a material exploration and connotations which resonated in a way that they could understand. I try to create this space in my work, and I recognize that it is an opening and an offering, not a reality for all.
This project uses the hair extensions that you have personally worn, each carrying a memory of the process of having them installed. Can you describe one of these experiences for us?RB
While the subjectivity of the extensions are important, they are most significant in their codification. What I mean by this is that those who get hair extensions installed particularly in braided forms can fill in the gaps of what that experience might feel like and look like. I describe these experiences as being intimate; sitting with another person or many other people. That closeness and that bonding and that intimacy is held between me and the person or people who installed the extensions for me, but also can be imagined by those within the Black community who have experienced getting their hair braided. For a general audience, that is part of the experience of obstruction and the most significant part of the image that is abstracted and withheld. This gesture is very important for my practice.
The cyanotype works in this show remind me of your previous project Reach & Coil (2019). Both seem to refer to the blue sky, the playfulness of hair, even the slight wrinkle visible in each substrate. Is there a direct connection between these works for you?RB
I describe my work as being about Blackness, and most specifically and importantly my subjective experience as a Black woman. This is done through my exploration of symbols such as hair and Sun and other material which connote my understanding of identity as a Black woman. As a result my works often resemble one another as these symbols return and as my treatment, documentation and approach to extending representation finds continuity.
What is next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects you’d like to share about?RB
There’s lots more to come; lots of photography, lots of installation and many many more cyanotypes made in collaboration with the Sun.
Rebecca Bair’s exhibition, titled “The Sun Found Me Amongst the Clouds” was on view at BAF from August 18 to October 22, 2022.