Art NotesArts & Culture

‘Tease’ Explores the Power of Hair

Cut and Color: Hair has always possessed powerful symbolic properties, existing not only as a public extension of a person’s health, sense of identity and personal style, but as an essential element in rituals, ceremonies and visual communication for many cultures throughout history. “Tease,” currently on view at the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art, explores the roles hair fulfills in the realms of spirituality, sexuality, fashion and community.

A touching and humorous portrait series by Jeremy Ayers reflects hair’s ability to bring people together through the ritual of grooming. The portraits’ subject, MaVynee Betsch aka “The Beach Lady,” had the second longest hair in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and spent much of her life living on Amelia Island’s American Beach, where her hair would understandably collect a good bit of sand. Judging by the images, washing her jaw-dropping dread was a labor-intensive yet endearing group effort.

In Untangled: Getting to the Roots of a Hair Movement, documentary filmmaker Shantay Robinson interviews several African American women who advocate for embracing natural hair in its most organic state, sans perms or other chemical treatments. The film presents itself as a series of portraits; as each woman shares her personal experience with transitioning to natural hair, her makeup is applied for a confident headshot to close out the scene.

Several of the participating artists use hair as the medium for creating their art. Brooklyn-based artist and educator Ari Richter uses dog hair, cat hair and pubic hair (yep) to build small animals he calls “Dust Buddies.” The unusual, wearable pieces by Lily Smith explore how hair acts as ornamentation. “Hair Tube,” made from horsehair and synthetic hair, is a human-sized, floor-length cocoon, whereas “Hair Brooch,” on view under a little glass dome, offers a much more subtle way to wear hair. Sarah Truett contributes a long rope braid of synthetic hair called “I Can’t Restrain Myself.”

Two site-specific pieces are included in “Tease.” Influenced by ritual and dream worlds, Zipporah Thompson patterns strips of woven textiles with braids, ponytails and bundles of hair into a wall-bound collage. The attention to detail and orderliness reflects the greater cultural tendency to place significance on hair. Brian Hitselberger, assistant professor of painting and printmaking at Piedmont College, created a large wall drawing depicting the side profile of a well-groomed, resting man with close-cropped hair and a short boxed beard.

Jessica Wohl draws tangled black ink lines over the faces of hair models from vintage magazine ads, juxtaposing polished beauty with an untamed state. Paul Thomas, a longtime Athenian whom many will recall as the owner of curiosity shop X-Ray Cafe, adds a hairpiece to a portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson, reflecting fashion’s ability to be absurd every once in awhile.

On Thursday, Apr. 23 at 6 p.m., ATHICA will screen the full-length 45-minute version of Robinson’s Untangled. On the following Thursday, Apr. 30 at 6 p.m., Athens Puppetry will present a special performance made possible through an Idea Lab mini-grant from UGA’s Ideas for Creative Exploration. “Tease” will remain on view through Sunday, May 3.

Do I Need Any Luggage?: Borrowing its name from a B-52’s song, “Detour Thru Your Mind” is an upcoming experiment in creating an illustrated people’s history of Athens by weaving reflections and stories from locals. Part exhibition, part publication, the project will combine visual art in various media with prose, poems and anecdotes written by members of the literary community. Drawing inspiration from Athens’ iconic landmarks, cultural history and myths, the show will surely present a nostalgic, impressionistic time capsule of what gives our town such a distinct sense of place.

A wave of over 20 participants has already been announced, with the lineup including the likes of Matt Blanks, Jill Carnes, Michele Chidester, Dana Jo Cooley, Will Eskridge, James Greer, Jennifer Hartley, Melissa Link and Jordan Rothacker.

An accompanying publication, which serves as a fundraiser for ATHICA, will be pre-sold on for $20 through Friday, May 1. The exhibition will open with a reception on Saturday, May 23 and remain on view through Sunday, June 21.

Calling All Artists: ATHICA will host “Emerges VIII,” its annual exhibition dedicated to displaying budding artists who, though new to the professional art world, demonstrate a distinctive voice.The show is up from Saturday, July 11–Sunday, Aug. 23. Though the artists highlighted in “Emerges” are specifically sought out by the curator, community members will have a new opportunity to propose their own works with the following exhibit, “J1: ATHICA’s First Annual Juried Exhibition,” which runs Saturday, Sept. 19–Sunday, Nov. 15. This year’s 20th juried show at the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation and 40th juried show at the Lyndon House Arts Center suggest that “J1” has the potential to grow into a longstanding tradition.

Michael Rooks, curator of modern and contemporary art at the High Museum of Art, will serve as guest juror. Artists of all ages and media are welcome to submit digital photos of up to three pieces to The entry fee is $25 per artist or collective, and the deadline for submissions is Saturday, Aug. 1. Visit for additional details.