Nonkululeko Sibande is a Fine Art graduate from The University of Johannesburg, majoring in sculpture, and printmaking. Sibande uses synthetic and natural hair as both a subject and a medium. Growing up in a Zulu household full of women who used braiding as a skill to generate income beyond their ordinary jobs, Sibande learned how to braid by the age of seven. At that age Sibande had also already undergone many of the processes of black hair straightening such as chemical and heat application. Her work is inspired by the inborn traits of braiding between her and the women in my family.
Sibande uses her braiding skill in both a playful and serious manner through the creation of her crowns to challenge society's way of thinking, all leading to a positive perception of black hair representation.
"The chosen title of my work Umqhele derives from my home language isiZulu, which means headband or imperial headdress. The title also serves the clear aim of crowning black women with a ‘new imagined identity’ apart from the stereotypes created by mass media over the years" (Sibande)
For many young black girls, hair is not just something to play with, it is something that carries their history and identity. Sibande regards her hair as an extension of her race, as she expresses that the idea that ‘good hair’ is ‘straight hair’ within the African community goes against the supposed naturalness of black hair and black culture altogether. The two go hand in hand with one another and cannot be separated.
The crowns and body language depicted in her body of work comes from referencing historical portraits by African queens and goddesses including traditional hats from different cultures within South Africa, although in this case the hats are made from the use of synthetic hair fiber. The headdress objects can be attached and detached from the body, like wigs and crowns. The idea of wigs becoming costume focuses solely on emphasizing how wigs serve as a facet or could be a way to assert your own identity to embody the desired personality.