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The Curl Talk Project: The stories behind curly hair

  •   4 min reads
The Curl Talk Project: The stories behind curly hair

Even in 2022, curly hair lacks recognition in a society where straight, clear hair is the norm. What are the stories behind the thousands of curls? That's the question being asked at a new outdoor photo exhibition launched in Granary Square. Around 100 stories have been brought together to share experiences of over 30 women from around the world about their curly hair history.

Credit: Sarah Le Guen

The Curl Talk project was founded in 2017 by Johanna Yaovi. It is a project that combines  diversity and representation, at the heart of its values. As a mixed race woman, Johanna has always been interested in the plurality of cultures, appearances and stories. She describes the initiative herself as "as a portfolio of experiences for curly haired women". Having already been exhibited in Shoreditch in 2021, her photographs of many curly haired women can be found on Granary Square, accompanied by some strong testimonies. The project, which began on 7 March, also marked International Women's Day on 8 March and coincided with Women's History Month.

Promoting curly hair in society

"I think it's mainly because of my own experience," explains Johanna Yaovi. Ever since she was a little girl, she remembers growing up with magazines depicting white women with straight, blond hair. "It was considered the standard of beauty, so I grew up without representation," she says. From a young age, she asked herself questions about her hair and her identity, which were not represented in society. In 2017, she started her Curl Talk project. Over six months, Johanna Yaovi gathered about 100 testimonies and photographs of women with curly hair, while covering a broad diversity to represent and reach as many women as possible. For Samantha, one of her models, it was essential to take part in the project to get her story across. "We all have very different experiences of how we perceive our hair and how we think our hair is perceived by others."

Samantha, one of the models. Credit: Karollyne Hubert 

The photographs of women of all ethnicities are fascinating and provide touching testimonies. For the photograper, Joanna Yaovi, her mother remains the testimony that marks her most.  "She has always been proud to be who she is. She has always accepted her skin colour. She has always been proud of herself as a black woman. But she's always struggled with her hair, so she's been chemically straightening and straightening it most of her life."

Diverse representation

Johanna has sought to represent a wide range of diversity through her photographs. In the pictures, there are black women, mixed race women, but also white women.

Credit: Sarah Le Guen

Even women from the Middle East have been  involved in the process and the project. Through this plurality, the founder of Curl Talk Project wanted to show the differences in experience. Despite the commonality of curly hair, she says that all these women have their own story: "A blonde white woman with curly hair will not have the same experience as someone who looks like my mother, who is a dark-skinned black woman with short curly hair." It was important in her project to make sure that it was representative of absolutely all women with curly hair, regardless of country or skin colour. "Although to be honest, the majority of the women involved are black or of mixed race, because they feel naturally drawn to the project", she says. For Johanna, it was important to bring visuals to these stories, and to be able to photograph so many different women. "You can hear people talking about it or reading about it to get more information, but there's always this idea that you can't be what you can't see. So it was important for me to have a visual image with the real stories in the testimonies."

Discrimination in everyday life

Even today, curly hair is still struggling to find its place in society. Whether it is straightened for an interview to get a job, or for an important meeting to look more professional, in line with standards set by society, curly hair is still seen as 'wild' by some and can be problematic. "Probably, I mean that I think that in today's society the way you look, or some of your features, will definitely make people see you in a certain way. It's never justified," says the founder of the project. With this exhibition, Johanna Yaovi hopes to change her own mentality. "It's about making sure that we can raise this issue and make people understand that there are a lot of problems with having curly hair, when it's just our natural hair. Today, she proudly shows off  her curly hair. "That's the way I am." A podcast is being prepared for this project.

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