In Looks, artist Derrick Adams references the immense potential of a wig to alter an appearance and construct a persona. The exhibition, which is on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art through May 29 alongside a survey of art and fashion photography titled The New Black Vanguard (opens May 8), shows nine of Adam’s portraits rendered in the artist’s distinct geometric style evocative of “Benin heads, Kwele masks, Kota reliquary figures,” and other West African masks and sculptures, he says in a statement.
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Standing more than eight feet tall, the acrylic-and-graphite works center on busts with direct gazes, their faces mapped with different skin tones and makeup lining rounded eyelids and lips. The elaborate wigs in rainbow stripes and faded ombre are inspired by the salons and shops in Adams’ Brooklyn neighborhood. He reinterprets these functional wearables as bold, two-dimensional portraits that speak to the importance of hair in Black culture and the power of defining oneself through spectacular, joyful adornments. He explains about the works:
I feel more than ever that it is essential for artists to make work that celebrates Black culture. As a Black man, I am aware of my vulnerability and susceptibility to trauma and oppression on a daily basis. I personally don’t need to be reminded of it in art and choose to instead highlight Black normalcy. Those who participate in Black culture understand there are images that are less important for us to see than images of joy.