Alisa Banks has two pieces from her Edges series included in the Modest in Scale exhibition at Abecedarian Gallery. This is the first I’ve seen of her work, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to both examine her work and learn more about the conceptual development of these particular pieces.
Alisa is a visual artist whose work explores aspects of identity including notions of home, the body and Southern Louisiana culture. She often incorporates fibers and found materials that in form reference traditional crafts. She currently lives in Dallas, TX.
Her repurposed books have immediate visual appeal as standalone sculptural objects; their craft and technique are satisfying. Happily, they go beyond craft and novelty of approach as Alisa is also addressing content and concept in an intelligent and sophisticated manner.
Edges is a series of 4, each with a different edge treatment based on African/African ancestry braided hair styles and are titled based on the style and the method of braiding: corn-rowing, twisting, lace braiding, and thread wrapping. Instead of manipulating the hair solely by hand, I crocheted the hair to the base, or page edge of each book (except for Twist, which is closer to latch-hooking). Lace braid is actually lace crocheted using hair. I say that, because it does not look exactly as a lace-braided hairstyle.
The Edges series of books is one of several that utilize hair (usually synthetic,but sometimes human) in some fashion. Hair culture is a recurring theme in my work in part because it (hair) is highly personal and highly subject to social codes even within cultural groups. In the various pieces, hair is used to convey messages by the manner in which it is treated, by the styling of the hair, and titling of the work. As a side note, I find it interesting that styles considered current are often similar to much older, even ancient styles, whose meanings are long forgotten.
The books were chosen primarily because of their intimate size and because they are written in Spanish, however the actual stories do not relate to the overall piece.
During the time I created the series, there was much heated political dialog on the national, state and local level concerning (illegal) immigration. Often the dialog took an underlying tone of intolerance and had little to do with immigration status. The tones of intolerance (which were cross-cultural), reminded me of growing up in the 60’s and 70’s during integration. My intent was to use the hair treatment in a way that would show how much activity, creativity and life happens on the “edges” of mainstream society, regardless of whether or not it is recognized. By the way, the term “edges” in African American hair culture refers to the parts of the hair that are most challenging to deal with – in other words, the parts of the hair that do not “act” or “look” like the rest.