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Hair: Symbol of Power, Seduction and Shame.

November 5, 2012

The Bouffant Belles were a Texas all-girls track team that competed in full hair and makeup in the 1960s. Photo from the “Art of Hair” exhibit, Branly Musem.

Things got really weird really fast at the Art of Hair exhibit in the Branly Museum.

From the common to the unexpectedly strange, everything was on display in this cultural celebration of hair. The exhibit shows how people have been decorating their hair as far back as the days of our cave dwelling ancestors. But even more surprising are the lessons revealing the role of hair beyond the realm of beauty.

“The Art of Hair: Frivolities and Trophies,” is a temporary exhibit currently going on at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, showing how hair has always been a symbol of power, seduction and shame throughout time and across different cultures.

Some of the images we see in the exhibit are kings from ancient times displaying their grandeur through their long hair, sirens luring men to their deaths with their crooning voices and sweeping hair, widows with their hair unpleated to mourn for their dead husbands. The exhibit is filled with statues, drawings, paintings, photographs and videos illustrating how hair can mean different things for different cultures.

One of the videos cleverly juxtaposes haut couture hairstyles found on the runway with hairstyles sported by tribal groups. Perhaps the most sobering footage is the one of European women in the 1930s, being displayed after their heads have been shaved to mark the shame of sleeping with enemy soldiers.

Then things got weird, with the display of scalped heads and shrunken heads. Real human scalp and real shrunken human heads. Apparently, this is the trophies part of the “Frivolities and Trophies.” If there is one flaw in the exhibit, it’s that the subject of hair itself is very abstract. So you can show ANYTHING in this exhibit, as long as it has hair on it.

Still, if you want to get cultured on hair and you happen to be in Paris, then I would suggest that you check out “The Art of Hair: Frivolities and Trophies” exhibit at the Branly Museum, which is going on until July 14, 2013.

Heads up on the little quiz that you can fill out as you follow along the course of the exhibit. The first place winner is awarded with a hair makeover valued at €300 by the stylist Frédéric Birault, from the Cut By Fred blog.