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$3,235 raised of $3,000 goal
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Funded on August 18, 2015
    • 108% contributed

Braids is a new series of photographic portraits and video, portraying the profound beauty and nuanced artistry of hair braiding. Originally conceived in 2002, Braids will finally be produced this fall with the support of this 3AP campaign. Over the next few months, I will braid and style a group of models by incorporating synthetic hair, yarn, and other adornments into a variety of original looks and wearable works of art. Next, I will create a series of photographic and video portraits capturing the completed designs and attempting to contextualize them as an art form.  Braids will culminate in a solo exhibition at Elee.Mosynary Gallery in April of 2016.  As an interdisciplinary artist, I have always wanted to incorporate my braid training into my work, while also asserting my voice into a rich tradition that has become increasingly appropriated in mainstream culture. I want to offer a gesture of genuine gratitude and imagination for my craft amidst the exploitation of trend. With this campaign and your support, I will honor this evolving tradition seated within the crest of the Black feminine experience.

About This Project

Braiding is an ongoing practice in my life, from when I had my hair done by family members as a child, to when I began braiding for others as an adolescent. Braids are typically temporary and confined to practical styles suitable for a client’s lifestyle. By removing considerations of wearability and time, my braids will live solely as works art, immortalized in film and digital photography.  Beyond aesthetics, hair braiding in practice is a transformative and deeply connective tradition. I will examine those connections and relationships through the context of my own experience, inheriting a skill from my family, using it as a tool of self love, then spreading that love to my clients. 

The initial concept for Braids struck me at the age of twelve, when I had an idea to create sculptural braid styles using multi colored synthetic hair and wire, then photograph them. Over time the idea marinated, drawing inspiration from the evolution of my own braiding, 60’s era African American braid styles, and regional braid designs across the continent of Africa. As I developed as an artist and began using more conventional art media, I realized that all along I have perceived braiding as a trade separate from art. When I began to deconstruct my reasoning, I discovered that I had projected societal misgivings about Black culture on myself. I didn’t recognize Braiding as a legitimate art form, because I was conditioned not to.  Now, thirteen years later, I wish to honor my art, and I am finally ready to bring this long imagined project to life.

This past year the fashion scene has been flooded with cornrows, baby hair, and urban inspired silhouettes. Recently, while perusing the internet, I stumbled across a behind-the-scenes photograph of a model wearing a du-rag, a scarf typically worn by Black men to produce uniform ripple curls, or waves, in short hair cuts. The image caption called the du-rag an “urban tie cap” by Chanel, and reading it disturbed me. Black men are snubbed for wearing du-rags, but a white woman in the same scarf is high fashion. Likewise, Black women have to consider if our hair in its natural state is appropriate or professional in certain settings. Historically, facets of Black life are mocked or exploited for capital gain while actual Black people are removed from the conversation. This is why it feels imperative to add my voice to this conversation, to help define my culture with an artistic perspective rooted in Black unity and empowerment.

With your support, Braids will come to life in this solo exhibition next spring. Funds raised through 3AP will help cover costs of lighting, backdrops, darkroom access, photographic paper, synthetic hair, yarn, printing, framing, and makeup artistry. The resulting exhibition is the backbone of what I hope will become an ongoing project. In the near future, my goal is to show Braids in different cities and create a companion book to accompany the exhibit. My long-term goal is to embark on an international cultural exchange where I learn and document traditional braiding techniques from women in various regions in Africa and teach them styles from my home. Throughout the process I will pay my skills forward by teaching young girls, creating for them a platform for connection, creative expression, and financial independence.

Thank yous

Contribute any amount or choose from the levels below.

  • $20
    (and under) Personal thank you ($0.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $50
    Personal thank you, invitation to opening reception, complimentary natural haircare swag bag (available at reception) ($0.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $100
    Invite to opening reception, Epic soft stimulating scalp oil (handmade by artist), complimentary natural haircare swag bag (available at reception) ($0.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $250
    Invite to opening reception, name listed as sponsor at event, limited edition T-shirt, studio visit, and natural haircare swag bag (available at reception) ($0.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $500
    Invite to opening reception, recognition as premium sponsor and special thanks at opening reception, signed black and white print from the exhibition, studio visit, braid consultation with artist. ($0.00 is tax deductible.)

Shani Crowe

Shani Crowe is an interdisciplinary artist from Chicago’s south side. The product of an Art rich, Afrocentric upbringing, Shani creates work that is centered on keeping the proverbial flame of cultural coiffure, adornment, and beauty ritual, as they relate to …

View Shani Crowe's profile
  • Update 1: Exhibition opens April 8, 2016
    Posted on April 14, 2016


    Shani Crowe exhibition flier

    • Thank you to the following for contributing to 3Arts with the recommendation that we support this project.

    • Camila Carrillo

    • Pierre Boncy

    • Larry Crowe

    • thurma pates

    • kailah armand

    • Maria Gray

    • Lauren Terrell

    • Theodore Nelder

    • Marlease Bushnell

    • Sarah Dillin

    • Phyllis Crowe

    • ife Carruthers

    • Tiffany Savage

    • Scheherazde Tillet

    • Rashayla Marie Brown

    • Shayna Atkins

    • Carol Moses-Robinson

    • Victoria Thomas

    • Zeek Crowe

    • Jesika Palmer

    • Taheera Cartman

make it work


3AP Presenting Partner:

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 Additional support provided by: 

Department of Cultural Affairs logo  Illinois Arts Council