Where the Light Meets My Shoulder centres Black curls in sunlight

Rebecca Bair illuminates intricate swirls of hair in this stunning exhibit

A gallery room with white walls, lots of empty space, and fluorescent lights. There are multiple large canvases of photographs featuring silhouettes of curly hair.
PHOTO: Pooja Singh / The Peak

By: Sofia Chassomeris, SFU Student

This week, I had the pleasure of viewing and experiencing the exhibit Where the Light Meets My Shoulder by local artist Rebecca Bair. The exhibit is available until February 11 at Evergreen Cultural Centre located next to Lafarge Lake-Douglas SkyTrain station, and admission is free! Bair is an accomplished interdisciplinary artist currently based in Vancouver, where she teaches at Emily Carr University. Making use of several different mediums, including “ephemeral materials like shea butter and sunlight,” the lens-based exhibit features symbolism of the sun, circles, shadows, and her hair.

I have a profound appreciation for Bair’s ability to captivate her audience’s attention, as I found myself drawn to the intricate lines of beautiful, curled hair centred in the exhibit. My favourite pieces were two cyanotypes — prints created using a process that involves exposing them to ultraviolet light and washing them in water to create a gorgeous deep blue colour. Opaque objects are arranged on top before exposure to UV light, leaving behind negative images that the light is unable to reach. Understanding the process of creating cyanotypes is important to Bair’s work as she emphasizes sunlight and shadows to depict her experience as a Black woman. Quoting Zora Neale Hurston, an American author and anthropologist, Bair resonates with Hurston’s depiction of the “voluptuous child of the sun” in her 1934 essay.

“I think of this often — referring to the Black body as the child of the Sun,” Bair wrote in response. “Rather than it being infantilizing, it opens doors to consider the ways in which the melanized body is possible because of the sun — that our heritage and connection is through its light. When I ‘collaborate’ with the sun, I am calling upon and collaborating with ancestors — those melanized before me.”

The two cyanotypes previously mentioned consist of imagery of the artist’s hair. The first features hair extensions that reach outward from a centrepoint, the circular shape created by the strands of hair reminiscent of the sun’s rays stretching across a blue sky. The second piece is a long braid of hair, coiled into another circle. This piece is reflective of Bair’s cultural symbolism of hair as a site of connection for family and community members, the braid representing the time and love put into its care. Both of these pieces are especially powerful when coupled with Bair’s assertion that Blackness is not simply darkness, and not at all an absence of light, but rather the absorption of it. We do not see the hair itself in these pieces, but an abstract representation of it, highlighting the equal importance of what is visible and what is not.

I highly recommend visiting the Evergreen Cultural Centre before the exhibit is over, as Bair’s work is both deeply touching and visually stunning.

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