"You Can Touch My Hair" NYC Exhibit Attempts to Spark Discussion on Black Hair

Three women stood in Union Square and invited passersby to come feel their mane.

Posted: 06/10/2013 11:26 AM EDT
You Can Touch My Hair exhibit

Last Thursday and Saturday, Antonia Opiah of Un'ruly presented an exhibition for all those who are curious and perplexed by Black hair. Her exhibition, "You Can Touch My Hair," held in New York City's Union Square featured three women with different styles and hair textures holding up signs asking passersby to come feel their mane. The ladies stood outside for a couple hours willing anyone curious to walk over to experience the difference between natural hair, weaves, and locks.

Jade Garner, 26, wanted her straight weave to be shown off and was excited to let others touch it. Joliana Hunter-Ellin, 23, used the social experiment to explore her own issues about people touching her locks while curly-haired Malliha, 27, found the whole idea uncomfortable and hoped to teach the public why they shouldn't touch strangers' hair.

According to the Huffington Post, approximately 75 to 100 people took the women up on their offer and those who did said they were curious in the past, but never wanted to ask friends or strangers out of fear of offending. And the touchers weren't just people of other ethnicities as many women of color also felt compelled to participate.

Still, critics compared the exhibition to a petting zoo, calling it a violation of personal space and an indication that we're still not anywhere near a post-racial society. Protestors even attended the event carrying signs that read "You can't touch my hair, but you can kiss my a-s." A comment written by Opiah on her site about the event also explained that this experiment was about satiating the curiosities of non-Blacks and not about aiding Black women or really educating the public.

"I'm seeing a sense of discomfort and disapproval of the exhibit, which is exactly what I hoped would come to the surface," Opiah wrote to the Huffington Post. "It's easy to disapprove of something so literal, but when you get the question 'Can I touch your hair?' in your everyday life, it goes unnoticed. I just wish more non-Blacks would partake in the discussion. At the same time, I'm loving those people who are welcoming the discussion."




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(Photo: Mark Fraunhofer via Un-Ruly)

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