Change Your Style – CNF by lanaire aderemi

Growing up, I spent more time speaking with hairdressers in the salon than I spent playing outside. Years later, these intimate conversations that ranged from migration to beauty would inform the creation of my short film ‘change your style’.

lanaire aderemi, change your style, 2019, (video still collage by Dami Osinubi)
i will now invite you to my memoir
consider this
as hairdressers
as artists
as cooks
teachers welcoming all forms of knowledge
consider this
bodies that listen more than they speak

                                                                                           i will now invite you to my memoir
                                                                                                                               consider this
                                                                   testimonies as evidence of enriching conversations
                                                                                listeners from different times and space(s)

A photo of myself in my mum’s congested WhatsApp photo library would remind me of the candle’s heat near my relaxer-burnt scalp. As I scratched my burnt scalp after the relaxer was washed off, I stared at the dark and lovely girl whose sinister smile would remind me that this pain is temporary, and that beauty requires sacrifice. I became friends with a girl on a paper box. The dark and lovely girl whose smile spoke soothing words.

The scorching heat from the Lagos sun and its accomplice, the hand dryer, will overshadow the hairdresser’s affirming words ‘fine girl, don’t cry’. Her remark will make me wipe my tears. As she shares how this hair transformation will signal my transition to this ‘big girl’ status, I will let out a shriek that she will mistake for the hand dryer heat. My ‘Aunty, it hurts!’ will be met with ‘Pele, beauty is pain’. It is in that conversation that I will realise that even the salon can be a site for critical thinking, reflection and analysis.

Years later when a different Aunty flicks through my WhatsApp photo library to see my desired hairstyle, I will remember the disappointment in her face when she sees I want black braids again. ‘Try another colour of attachment!’, she will say with a smile. I will be hesitant at first because I am not used to envisioning new possibilities or breaking rules. I was only allowed to have colourful hairstyles during the holidays but when the holidays arrived, I worried that bright colours would make me too visible, so I stuck to black braids. In some sense, the policing of my hair colour and style in school had permeated my mind so deeply, I could not envision any new possibility. I realise in that moment that Aunty was disappointed because I had pursued safety ( even in my imagination ) instead of bravery. ‘ You are not in secondary school anymore’, she will say as she divided the xpression colour one attachment, loosely braided in a transparent plastic bag into two equal parts. Who would have thought a conversation about changing my style will teach me to imagine?

look at us
who would have thought
not me!

‘What parting do you want love?’ she will ask. I will respond with ‘none’ but next to me was a customer who had responded with ‘middle’. As the rain brushed the tiny window leaving its own bristles, I wondered how hairdressers were not known as mathematicians. The hairdresser does not need a measuring tape to make equal partings. They do not need a protractor to give me my best angle. They do not need a ruler to measure the length of the hair extensions used. The hairdresser discovered fractals before mathematicians did. They are the reasons why people stop to ask, ‘who did your hair?’ The people that ask admire the language on your hair. The complex beautiful patterns are enough proof that hairdressers are the greatest mathematicians. They do not need measuring tapes to make equal partings or a protractor for angles or a ruler to measure the length of x-pression. As the hairdresser attached cuffs to my braids, I will be transfixed in wonder. I have new eyes now. I have new ways of seeing. I can change my style.

J. D. Okhai Ojeikere, Hairstyles, 1968-1975
In ‘Hairstyles, 1968-1975’, photographer J. D. Okhai Ojeikere re(presents) hairstyles worn by Nigerian women as sculptures that deserve admiration. In a comment about his acclaimed Hairstyle series, Okhai Ojeikere says, ‘To watch a hair artist going through precise gestures, like an artist making a sculpture, is fascinating…hairstyles are an art form’. For years, I had forgotten that my hair was a work of art. As the hairdresser warned me to shut my eyes as she sprayed my neat braids with Olive Oil sheen, I remembered Okhai Ojeikere’s powerful statement. As artists, it is easy to forget the everyday, mundane activities which make up our process. Likewise, I realised I had forgotten to document the ephemeral moments that shaped the braids I wore.

‘Aunty, please reduce the heat’ I would add , trying my hardest to stay still as each braid received its edit. I always looked forward to trimming my hair but preferred the trimming method which relied on the pair of scissors. Still, trimming brought a great sense of relief – like cleaning on a Saturday morning or editing an abandoned poem.

I think of trimming as shedding
so I do not complain because I am making room for uniform

Here, the use of words like ‘ trimming’ and ‘ shedding’ mirror the hairstylist’s attention to detail as she cuts every untidy hair extension from each braid. Unlike the relaxer’s painful edit, this edit came with joy.

‘Do you want to add anything to your hairstyle?’ Aunty asked. I would respond enthusiastically with ‘beads’ thinking about a picture of my five-year-old self jumping on my grandparents bed as beads crossed my face like windshields of a car. I wore a different kind of smile that day. I realised that even objects like plastic beads, hair cuffs and colourful wool can be facilitators of my desire for change. Hair can be manipulated, changed, mixed and blended. I could change my style. Like any work of art, hairstyling requires immense energy, time and labour. As a child, I complained about how long I sat on the stool. Now, I sit anticipating a new story shared or a new song heard which I can add to my library.

consider this.
re(imagine) food as knowledge.
but eat slowly
because the body knows
the body know it has been force(fed)
the body knows when it is being (force) fed
the body knows when it is being fed

In a sociology class I took in university on epistemology, I learnt that it is important to interrogate knowledge. Whilst I enjoyed learning, I often felt I was forced to eat food I did not always like. There were times I wanted to draw from knowledge stored in literature, music, art, film and even experiences so I could cite in my academic essays but often, I was repeatedly told to throw such food away. Re-reading texts such as bell hooks’s Teaching To Transgress taught me to continue to be brave enough to introduce non-academic knowledge in my academic essays despite being repeatedly penalised for my imagination. In my final year, I realised that I was even more concerned with recovering histories, stories and voices as my body required less force-feeding and more slow eating. As I wrote one of my final academic essays in my final year of university, I remembered that my teacher had said that we (students of a neoliberal education) should think of knowledge as food. The food I ate evoked a powerful scent of memory which transported me to the salon where the hairdresser had said ‘Try another colour of attachment!’. Indeed, the salon was always a site for collaborative storytelling and knowledge sharing which opened my imaginative possibilities. I had just never noticed it was until I chewed my food slowly as I wrote.

A few days before I shared my poetry film ‘change your style’ at a festival I organised in my university, I re-watched Table Manners by Zina Saro-Wiwa. In Table Manners, each ‘eater’ invites the viewer to their intimate act of eating. Although the ‘eater’ is the only person the viewer witnesses, the act of eating becomes communal as viewers too are invited to reflect on other quotidian activities in their life. By inviting the viewer to engage in simple acts of eating, knowledge is co-created and shared. An example of this is when an eater is asked about their encounter with a meal. The eater typically responds by retelling its tastes, sights and smells. Similarly, when the hairdresser asked, ‘Do you like your hair?’, my response of ‘Yes, Aunty, it’s very nice’ as she captures this memory with her phone signals a creation and sharing of knowledge.
Zina Saro-Wiwa, Table Manners : Season 1 (video still) 2014-2016.  © Zina Saro-Wiwa. Courtesy Tiwani Contemporary, London

‘Lanaire, remember your table manners, please eat slowly’ my mother said with her eyes as I ate my grandmother’s ikokore. Throughout of my educational journey, I had to eat quickly to memorise vast amounts of knowledge so I could achieve high grades. Although I achieved high grades, I often left the classroom feeling like I was force fed and in some days, feeling like I needed to throw up. From writing my essay about change your style, a film based on my experience of sitting and eating in a different classroom – a salon, I learnt that it is possible to digest the knowledge people share. It is also possible to eat slowly in a world that demands great speed. Indeed, the process is where the violence happens.

i exist within a cannon
i am not ahistorical
i have a lineage
there are women that came before me
name them
name me
i am here
i am from many places
and people
and histories
do not forget us.

lanaire aderemi is a poet and playwright committed to amplifying and archiving untold stories. She graduated with a First Class in Sociology and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Warwick. She is the recipient of the 2019 Shoot Festival Artist Development Award and the 2020 Peter Gutkind Prize. In 2017, she self-published her poetry anthology ‘of ivory and ink’ which was later adapted into a play called ‘an evening with verse writer’ (Tristan Bates, 2018). Her award-winning play ‘an evening with verse writer’ (Warwick Arts Centre, 2019) was adapted into a film and screened at ‘story story festival’. Alongside writing, she has written and directed films which have been screened at ‘change your style’ and ‘story story’ festival. Her work has appeared in The Republic, BBC, Tate Modern, Birmingham Rep Theatre, Theatre Absolute, 20.35 Africa anthology and Africa Writes. She is currently a PhD candidate in Literary Practice at the University of Warwick. Twitter: @lanaire_aderemi

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