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The Power of Hair: Symbols and Metamorphoses

By Béa Aaronson

No other part of the body seems to hold such symbolic power as the hair. It is both part of our body, and therefore part of our individual identity, and yet, at the same time, it is changeable, and removable. Hair can be altered according to taste and fashion, social and religious customs, and political aims. Hair can be covered or revealed, given or revered. Growing quicker than any other part of our body, it is our most visibly living organ and in this sense is a manifestation of life. At the same time, hair is composed entirely of dead cells, thus also projecting our human mortality.

“The Power of Hair: Symbols and Metamorphoses”
Wed, Nov 5, 4:30 and 6:30pm
La Ostra Roja
A Casa Verde Annex
San Jorge 45
Colonia San Antonio (off Refugio)
130 pesos
Reservations: 121 1026 or

At the intersection of anthropology, psychology, the history of ancient and contemporary art, fashion, and manners, crossing over time and space frontiers, over gender boundaries—the culture of hair belongs to all humans. This presentation will examine individual issues of intimacy and sociability through the universal theme of hair. Whether belonging to the traditions of the West, the East, the Middle East, the Far East, the Americas, the Pacific, the North, the South; whether short, long, blond, red, dark, loose or tight, straight or curly, braided, sculpted, colored, shaved, woven into cloth and hats, collaged into art, hair conjugates all of human behaviors and feelings.

The way we humans have used our hair as a language to communicate spiritual, sexual, social, and political messages is endless. I shall hopefully astonish your sensitivity and acquaint you with unforgettable images from all over the world to disclose the power of hair. From seduction, narcissism, to rebellion, war, and status symbol, to magical powers and memento mori⎯memories in physical form, relic, talisman, trophies, scalps, believing that hair retains the aura and energy of its owner—I shall show you as many examples as possible, not only photographs but also numerous artworks, to illustrate this fascinating eloquence.

Comparing coquetries and spiritual messages from Ancient Egypt, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, and Sufi cultures, as well as Papua New Guinea, India, Africa, Japan and China, Native American Indians, and those of haute coiffure and punk hair artists, I shall demonstrate how hair has actually succeeded in simultaneously raising and erasing cultural differences. The most obvious example will show how the punk culture appropriated for itself the rebellious Mohawk from the Kanienkehaka nation. Another example will startle you as I trace Jewish side locks, known as peyos, back to Cleopatra and the Egyptian Pharaohs, and also link them to African, Chinese, and Rastafarian dreadlock hair culture.

While being a medium for knowledge, the relativity of beauty, and psychological assertion, hair is also an object of spiritual belonging, of joy, health, and life, as well as a symbol of material vanity, a symbol of loss, time passing, illness, and death. Consciously or unconsciously, there are a lot of feelings and identity issues wrapped in our locks.

The lecture will be given at 4:30pm and repeated at 6:30, on Wednesday, November 5, at La Ostra Roja, San Jorge 45.


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