A new exhibition at the Fowler Museum will bring together a selection of the museum’s African hair adornments and an award-winning contemporary film by Ghanaian-American artist Akosua Adoma Owusu. “Fowler in Focus: The Art of Hair in Africa” will examine the potential of hair styling and ornamentation to function as important forms of social communication, contributing to the construction of identity and the expression of cultural affinity.

Finely crafted hairpins and combs from the Fowler collection reflect the great amount of care and attention that African peoples, both in Africa and in its diaspora, have long lavished upon already-elaborate coiffures. Many of these combs are made of valuable materials, including beads, copper wire and ivory, and they are carefully embellished with bas-relief geometric patterns or representations of animal or human forms — important elements that may convey information about the wearer.

African hair adornments
Adornments from "The Art of Hair in Africa."

Owusu’s 2009 film “Me Broni Ba” (My White Baby) reminds us of the important roles that hair plays everywhere, not just in Africa. Together, the hair ornaments and the film allow viewers to compare the role of hair in different time frames and circumstances. They present diverse forms of hair styling, address changing ideas of beauty and identity, and highlight the dynamism and reinvention that are often overlooked in discussions of African art. “Me Broni Ba” was acquired by the Fowler Museum in 2015.

Akosua Adoma Owusu is an award-winning filmmaker of Ghanaian descent whose short films have been screened throughout North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. She earned master of fine arts degrees in both film/video and fine arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 2008 and began her career as a post-production assistant on Chris Rock’s HBO documentary “Good Hair” (2009). Shortly thereafter, she transitioned to making her own short experimental films.

Owusu has received many awards, most notably the African Movie Academy Award for Best Short Film in 2013 for her film “Kwaku Ananse.” Owusu’s work began attracting attention in the museum world in 2010, and her films have been exhibited at a number of museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, in New York. Her films are held in numerous university and museum collections, including the Whitney Museum of Art, MoCADA, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.

Recently, Owusu has been focusing on her Kickstarter project “Damn the Man, Save the Rex!,” which aims to save Ghana’s oldest cinema house and renovate it as a venue for art, music, and film. She is also currently working on her first feature-length film.

This exhibition is organized by the Fowler’s Gemma Rodrigues, curator of African arts, and Erica Jones, curatorial assistant of African arts.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is one of the country’s most respected institutions devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas. The Fowler is open Wednesdays through Sundays, from noon to 5 p.m.; and on Thursdays, from noon until 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The Fowler Museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $12 in Lot 4. For more information, call 310-825-4361 or visit fowler.ucla.edu.

Public Programs

Sunday, June 7

1–4 p.m.
Kids in the Courtyard: Craft a Comb
Get inspired by the beautiful combs on view and create your own lovely hair adornments.

Thursday, June 18

12 p.m.
Culture Fix: The Art of Hair in Africa
In this gallery talk, co-curator Erica Jones discusses shifting ideals of beauty and the role of hair adornment in Africa from the colonial period to today.