She weaves family into her art

04/02/2014 1:00 PM

05/20/2014 6:58 PM

Shenequa and her sister don’t always get along.

But there’s one thing that tames any sibling rivalry between the Brooks sisters: hair. When T’keyah, the younger of the two, braids Shenequa’s hair, there is peace and love between them. There is something soothing in the act, her sister’s hands in her hair, twisting and pulling her strands into pretty plaits.

“Through hair,” Shenequa says, “we talk civilly.” The 21-year-old senior at the Kansas City Art Institute is debuting her show, “Synthetic Ties,” exploring the relationship between black women and their hair, as part of First Friday at the Silver Screen Salon. In many ways, the show is inspired by her sister back home in Miami.

Back in high school at Florida’s New World School of the Arts, she got an assignment requiring unconventional materials. Shenequa thought about braids and hair extensions, she liked the texture of the fake hair and the play on words — weaving with weave. She loosely braided a lot of yarn and some weave and made a dress. It was a one-time thing. Until she started studying fibers and weaving at the art institute.

Weaving is like meditation, she says.

“It’s time-consuming, and I enjoy that aspect. You have to be calm, and you can let all of your emotions out as you weave. It’s like peacefully venting,” she says. “It’s no different than sitting with my sister as she braids my hair. It reminded me of her, and in a way, it led to me honoring her through weaving.”

Getting our hair done is a bonding experience. We are fiercely loyal to our stylists for this reason. At the salon we don’t just get primped, we talk and laugh and get inside-out beautiful. For many of us, like Shenequa, it is a very big part of who we are.

“I grew up getting my hair done,” she says. “And in African-American culture, hair has a long history. There are relaxers and natural hair and weave and so much. People look down on certain styles and celebrate others.”

She chose weave, synthetic hair specifically, as her medium because it is the cheapest and most frowned upon. She wants to bring value and beauty to all hair. No more divisive measures — good hair, bad hair, fake hair, real hair, curly hair, straight hair, natural hair, relaxed hair, short hair, long hair — among our manes.

“I use it as a way to communicate how powerful, bonding and beautiful all hair is, even this hair.”

Her pieces range from mock styles, like the “Squatriangular Cut” complete with hair rollers, to tapestries that don’t even look like hair. Her technique involves a lot of details, brushing, combing, cutting and weaving. And braiding — something she learned by watching her sister, who despite their arguing, she loves very much.

Ultimately, Shenequa hopes to go to Ghana and study under a master weaver. But no matter what happens after graduation in May, her mission is to weave women together. One piece at a time.

‘Synthetic Ties’

Shenequa Brooks debuts her show from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Silver Screen Hair Salon, 1718 Wyandotte St. The show runs through April 29. By the way

Join Jeneé Osterheldt and the rest of the BeyHive for a Beyonce sing-along at at 9:30 p.m. Friday at Alamo Drafthouse, 1400 Main St. Tickets are $12. Reserve seats at

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