You might be having a bad hair day but you wouldn't give your hair much more thought than this. Yet hair is rich in cultural connotations.
Those meanings – and how they differ around the world – are explored in an offbeat exhibition which has just opened at the musée du quai Branly in Paris. Cheveux Chéris: Frivolités et Trophées (The Art of Hair – Frivolities and Trophies), features 280 photographs, paintings and objects which help to reassess the way we think about our barnets.
The exhibition is the brainchild of curator Yves Le Fur. He explains that “hair is a means of expression and communication for individuals and societies, a marker of plurality.” There are paintings of kings sporting regal curls and hairpieces, and ornate jewellery worn in the locks in cultures from Hawaii to sub-Saharan Africa. Stars sporting famous cuts abound: a photograph shows Ava Gardner (left) smouldering beneath her jet-black do in Henry Koster's 1958 film The Naked Maja.
Fairytales like Rapunzel get the once-over, coiffures from different eras are displayed, and the wider social context of how we use hair (or the lack of it) as body adornment is delved into.
“Zazous, punks or rockers were judged as grotesque,” says Le Fur, “although their hairstyles were mere signs of recognition within a group.”
Cheveux Chéris: Frivolités et Trophées, musée du quai Branly, Paris, to July 2013 (quaibranly.fr)