Ancient, modern and contemporary European busts, but also non-European busts: their juxtaposition invites you to appreciate the great variety of hairstyles which characterise different cultures. In this ethnic gallery bronzes and marbles in black and white, make up a chequerboard displaying multiple combinations and viewpoints. Busts of Louis XIV and Marie Josephine of Savoy from the National Museum of the Châteaux of Versailles and Trianon stand next to busts of black and Chinese women, works by Charles Cordier, from the collections of the National Museum of Natural History.
Following a course similar to that of life, the exhibition begins with the frivolity and carefreeness of fresh starts, driven by whims and desires. But is this mere frivolity? Is it not something more? But isn't the amount of care, attention, research and fickleness also a sign of the vitality which can overcome the banal and the ordinary and hence escape ugliness?
The exhibition moves from the sparkling world of western depictions towards those of other cultures. Paintings, sculptures, photographs, reproductions, objects and multimedia formats express the impermanence of these images, which are held out to us like mirrors revealing how we manage our appearance and our destiny.
This first part of the exhibition covers three areas: Metamorphoses and permutations, The colours of the norm, Seduction. The juxtaposition of a great diversity of works and objects reveals to us the different physical and symbolic forms that hair can take. This includes a series of photographs by Samuel Fosso and J.D. Okhai Ojeikere, an installation by Annette Messager, Rois Francs painted by Jean-Louis Bézard, photographs of actresses and singers by Sam Lévin and paintings by Ingres, Boilly, Charles Maurin and Jean-Jacques Henner.
The biological life of hair leads to its loss. Among individuals and societies, many situations involve hair loss, whether this loss is accepted or resisted and evokes, in reliquary arrangements, the absence and the memory of a person. "Loss" is expressed through three areas: Accepted loss, Memories and Enforced loss. Among the pieces on show: photographs by Françoise Huguier, Man Ray and Nobuyoshi Araki, the hair of Papuan initiates cut on their return from a long retreat of initiation and a piece of hair from a young Carmelite nun given by André Breton to Jean-Jacques Lebel. See also: medallions and brooches lent by the Caranavalet Museum, objects from the Jean-Jacques Lebel collection, photographs by Robert Capa and Annie Leibovtiz.
The power of hair
Hair care in non-European cultures similarly reflects issues of self-awareness and of seduction, whether it is a question of extensions or of decoration mixed with natural materials and skilful use of colour. Hair which is part of souvenir objects is laden with significance which evokes the memory or power of a person, especially in societies which practise trophy taking or head hunting. Hair becomes a material laden with the powers of its former owner and is worn as a powerful adornment. Trophies, scalps and other things are believed to stir up an energy which is most usually associated with a culture’s fertility, with the group’s prosperity and with peaceful relations with the Ancestors.
This last section comprises four parts: Adornments, Powerful ornaments and magic charms, Trophies, Ancestors and the Beyond. Chosen mainly from the collections of the Musée de quai Branly, some one hundred objects made of hair, from the simple to the spectacular, cause vanished bodies to seem increasingly substantial. A tension thus exists between living presence and remains, disappearance and survival, frivolity and death.