KATARRA LARAE PETERSON
My most recent work explores ideas of community strengthening, personal agency, and entrepreneurship through braiding. In December, I performed “Uppity II,” braiding over 100 feet of continuous plait made of canvas and synthetic hair for the duration of Art Basel Miami. The project was an extension of “PopUppity,” my August live-braiding performance. “Uppity II” loosely centered me as a self-rescuing Rapunzel figure, braiding a rope to opportunity with my own hands, then passing along the lifeline to others.
Hair-styling has long served as a financial lifeline for Black women, from supplemental income to full-blown proprietorship. To braid in an art space is to pay homage to these women’s creativity and resourcefulness. Layering the action with themes of how hair holds memory, how hair-braiding was one of few practices from Africa that slaves were allowed to retain, and the role that manipulating kinky hair plays in assimilation and respectability politics, the work becomes quite rich.
While connotations of the term “uppity” have broadened, historically it was used to denigrate Black people who demanded dignity, respect, and equity. Given the context of the Eurocentric, predominantly-male art canon, my casual insistence upon taking up space as a Black woman, whether on a museum wall or in the world-at-large, serves as a proud reclamation.